Carbon Tax

#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

Advertisements

Australia’s extreme heat here to stay. #ClimateChange #StopAdani #Auspol

How Australia’s extreme heat might be here to stay

By Adam Morton

Hobart

A section of highway connecting Sydney and Melbourne started to melt.

DRIVERS were being urged to take caution while heading towards Melbourne on the Hume Highway.

A stretch of the road began to melt at Broadford in hot weather on Friday afternoon.

Bats fell dead from the trees, struck down by the heat.

Mounds of dead flying foxes in Campbelltown suburb of Sydney. (Facebook/Help Save the Wildlife and Bushlands in Campbelltown)

On the northern Great Barrier Reef, 99% of baby green sea turtles, a species whose sex is determined by temperature, were found to be female.

In outer suburban Sydney, the heat hit 47.3C (117F) before a cool change knocked it down – to the relative cool of just 43.6C in a neighbouring suburb the following day.

Scenes from a sci-fi novel depicting a scorched future?

No, just the first days of 2018 in Australia, where summer is in fierce form.

With parts of the US suffering through a particularly grim winter, extremes in both hemispheres have triggered discussions about the links between current events and the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Climate change ‘no brainer’

The climate system is incredibly complex and no weather event can be directly attributed to rising emissions, but everything that is experienced today happens in a world that is about one degree warmer than the long-term mean.

Prof Andy Pitman, the director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes at the University of New South Wales, says given the average temperature has risen it is a “no brainer” that the likelihood of the sort of heat that hit Sydney last week has also increased.

Sydney swelters on hottest day since 1939

Reactions to extreme weather in US and Australia

“It was a meteorological anomaly, but the probability works a bit like if you stand at sea level and throw a ball in the air, and then gradually make your way up a mountain and throw the ball in the air again,” he says.

“The chances of the ball going higher increases dramatically.

That’s what we’re doing with temperature.”

Sydney has experienced a sweltering start to 2018

While it is record-breaking that tends to make news, scientists say it is the unbroken run of hot days in the high 30s and 40s that causes the significant problems for human health, and other life.

Health officials in Victoria highlighted the threat of heatwaves when they found about 374 more people died during an extreme three-day period in January 2009 than would have been expected had it been cooler.

There has, however, been relatively little investment in research into the health impact of escalating maximum temperatures.

A paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change last year said while a government report called for greater focus on the area 25 years ago, less than 0.1% of health funding since has been dedicated to the impact of climate change.

Hundreds of bats die as Sydney swelters

Australia had third-warmest year on record

VR shows terrifying reality of bushfires

Prof Pitman says Australia is yet to properly consider the health risks of a warming planet.

“It’s not being able to cool down at night, and in the days that follow, that causes problems,” he says.

“I was camping in the Blue Mountains [west of Sydney] on Saturday night. It was about 30 degrees at midnight, and I could feel my heart racing. Now, that extra stress on my cardiovascular system didn’t kill me, but it might have if I was 20 years older.”

Last year was Australia’s third-warmest year since records began, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Globally, it was the second or third warmest, and comfortably the hottest year in which there was not an El Niño weather system helping push up temperatures further.

Put another way: it is now hotter without an El Niño than it was with an El Niño just a few years ago.

Far-reaching impact

In eastern Australia – where the bulk of the population lives – temperatures were particularly inflated during summer months, when an increase is most likely to lead to uncomfortable or dangerous heat.

Several locations had runs of record hot days and nights. More than 40% of the most populous state, New South Wales, recorded at least 50 days hotter than 35C. The town of Moree had 54 consecutive days of extreme heat.

“Across Australia, the last five years were all in the top seven years on record. That’s quite a striking signal,” the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s Dr Blair Trewin says.

The extra energy warming up the climate system is also being felt in several ways. The bushfires season starts earlier than it used to, and Australia has already experienced wild blazes this season.

Along with the increased background heat, this is in part due to a clear drying pattern in some areas.

Rainfall is down for both the south-east and south-west of the country in the cooler months months between April and October.

“That also has quite significant impacts for agriculture because historically that’s when they get most of their inflows,” Dr Trewin says.

The impact of warming on the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, the only living structure visible from space, has been well documented. Estimates suggest about half its shallow-water coral was killed during bleaching events over the past two years linked to increased water temperatures.

Damage to Australia’s reef ‘unprecedented’

Further south, the sea along Tasmania’s east coast has warmed dramatically, pushing tropical species to unlikely high latitudes and coinciding with the disappearance of giant kelp forests.

Some weather patterns have not changed. There is no evidence of variations in cyclone behaviour or the frequency or intensity of large hail and lightning, for instance.

All this comes against a backdrop of political fighting over how to tackle climate change.

It is less than a year since senior government members brandished a piece of coal in parliament to taunt the Labor opposition, whom ministers accused of wanting to see an end to the fossil fuel industry.

The Malcolm Turnbull-led government remains committed to a 2030 target pledged at the Paris climate talks: a 26-to-28% cut below 2005 emissions.

It says it can cut emissions while shielding the public and business from unnecessary price rises.

It also points out that Australia is directly responsible for little more than 1% of global emissions (though it is responsible for about 30% of the global coal trade).

But national greenhouse accounts released in the week before Christmas showed Australia’s industrial emissions have been on an upward curve since 2014, when the government repealed carbon pricing laws, which required big business to pay for its pollution.

Emissions had fallen in the two years the laws were in place. The latest projections in the accounts suggest Australia will overshoot its 2030 target unless new policies are introduced to arrest the growth.

“There really isn’t an argument that climate change isn’t true in parliament anymore,” Prof Pitman says. “You’d find a couple of members of parliament that say that, but you’d also find a couple who didn’t believe in evolution and didn’t believe in inoculating children against disease.

“The issue now is that the scale of concern – and the action under way or committed to both in Australia and internationally – doesn’t match the scale of the problem.”

Press link for more: BBC.COM

Unmasking Malcolm #StopAdani #auspol

Unmasking Malcolm: The Big 5 Policy Failures of 2017

By Ben Eltham on January 9, 2018

Australian Politics

The myth of the moderate Malcolm Turnbull dies hard, writes Ben Eltham.

Will 2018 be any different?

At the end of 2017, it was easy to think of the Turnbull government as a spent force.

Given the constant state of crisis that has bedevilled politics for years now, we can be forgiven for thinking that the government is about to fall, or that Turnbull is about to be replaced.

That would be unwise.

Politics is rarely predictable, and even if it were, the fact remains that the government is just 18 months into its second term.

Turnbull doesn’t have to call an election until late 2019. As long as he can hold his government together, Turnbull has plenty of time.

The longevity of the Turnbull government is one of the stranger aspects of Australia’s unsettled political economy.

The Coalition has ruled since September 2013, but really it has been two different governments: Abbott and Turnbull.

You need to grasp that fact to understand politics in 2018.

We are not in the fifth year of a unified Coalition government.

We are 27 months into the Turnbull administration.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott (left) and current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

No-one could accuse the Abbott government of lacking a program: its agenda was obvious, as soon as it was elected.

Commissions of Audit, massive cuts to health and education, endless culture wars, a jihad against climate science.

Tony Abbott and his cabinet certainly stood for something.

To their bemusement, it was a something that voters rejected.

Ever since he took office, media coverage (and to a lesser extent, popular understanding) of Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership has been framed around wishful thinking – the desire for a particular sort of prime minister, a prime minister that Turnbull has manifestly failed to be.

The idea of a small-l liberal, moderate, progressive Malcolm Turnbull has died hard in the mediascape, even as it has quickly faded in the imagination.

Fawning admirers at Fairfax and the ABC fell over themselves to genuflect in front of a politician that could not help but identify with (the conservatives at News Corporation were a different matter).

Perhaps the paradigm example of the media love-in was when Turnbull ushered Annabel Crabb around the family mansion on Sydney Harbour; but there were plenty of others. When Turnbull announced his ill-fated ploy to call a double-dissolution election, commentators gushed.

Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull on ABC’s Kitchen cabinet, with Annabel Crabb.

In general, many in the mainstream media found themselves invested in the idea of Turnbull as a centrist saviour of Australia’s broken political process, with little more evidence than the fellow-feeling of a similarly privileged class.

The moderate image was fed by the man himself, who positioned himself successfully as a kinder and gentler Liberal, a wearer of leather jackets, a supporter of same-sex marriage, and a believer in action on climate change.

As we know now, he was none of those things.

Malcolm Turnbull no longer supports action on climate change.

He barely bothered to campaign on marriage equality.

The famous leather jacket is missing at the dry cleaners.

Malcolm Turnbull fooled many into believing he was a moderate. But he was lying.

Malcolm Turnbull is not a kinder, gentler conservative.

He has not been a moderate prime minister.

He is a wealthy lawyer and businessman whose main policy commitment appears to be to staying in power.

Turnbull’s government has been right wing in almost every significant respect, and the hopes for a small-l liberal, moderate and centrist government entertained by voters and journalists alike have been dashed.

The evidence is impossible to ignore: Turnbull is a ruthless opportunist who shows little scruples in his dealings with colleagues, with civil society, or with ordinary citizens.

27 months of government has shown us that what Malcolm Turnbull ultimately cares about is power: gaining it, holding it, and finally using it, in the interests of the ruling class to which he demonstrably belongs.

A screencap from Channel 10’s The Project, showing an awkward encounter for the Prime Minister on a train to western Sydney.

In the years since rolling Tony Abbott, media rhetoric has focused on Turnbull’s metric of 30 losing Newspolls as the reason why Abbott had to go.

Perhaps they should re-read the transcript of that first media conference.

Turnbull promised a “thoroughly Liberal government committed to freedom, the individual and the market.” In that respect, at least, he has been true to his word. Turnbull has delivered on his promise as a capital-L Liberal. His government has indeed been one committed to economic freedom, to individualism, and to the supremacy of the market.

How do we know this? Because of the policies Turnbull has implemented.

In this article, I will examine five key policy areas: climate and energy, housing, industrial relations, tax and social policy. In each of these policy areas, Malcolm Turnbull’s government has been conservative and neoliberal. It has governed in the interests of the rich and powerful, rather than ordinary citizens.

It has been, in Turnbull’s own words, “a thoroughly Liberal government.”

1. Climate and energy

Exhibit A is a lump of dead coral. There are hundreds of kilometres of dead reefs all the way up the Queensland coast.

In decades to come, when the politics of the moment have faded, this will be the true legacy of the Turnbull government.

What could better sum up its petty mendacity than the death of a natural wonder, to the cheers of a coal-fondling Treasurer?

Similarly, nothing could better illustrate the indifference of Australia’s political classes to their larger responsibilities than the shocking death of large swathes of the nation’s largest biological organism.

Historians will record that at the same time devastating bleaching was killing a tourism industry worth 70,000 jobs, Coalition ministers were glad-handing a lump of coal in federal Parliament.

2017 was the year when the government’s threadbare arguments against renewable energy were shown up for the lies they always were.

A series of detailed reports by the Australian Energy Market Operator showed the South Australian blackout of 2016 was caused by a cascade of faults beginning with a storm falling transmission lines – not renewable energy, as the government had wrongly claimed.

Cynicism barely begins to describe the dead-eyed psychopathy of the Coalition’s position on energy.

Despite talking incessantly about energy security throughout the year, the government has done precisely nothing to reform Australia’s energy system.

The risible example of the Liddell power plant in New South Wales perfectly illustrates this point.

In their bid for cheap media headlines, the government postured on the closure of a clapped-out hulk.

The Liddell controversy was the purest conservative theatre, allowing the government to gesture and preen about its fossil fuel credentials, even while its owner AGL calmly put together a replacement plan based around renewable energy.

Liddell Power Station (right) and the nearby Bayswater Power Station in the background. (IMAGE: Pete The Poet, Flickr)

For all the jawboning, in the end the government has not forced AGL to keep Liddell running. In fact, the government has not done anything at all in energy policy: a year after the delivery of Alan Finkel’s energy report, the government’s risible response is nothing but an eight page brochure.

There is no contest in Australian energy markets: renewables have won.

The days of coal are coming to an end, and no amount of Parliamentary grandstanding can change that.

Prices for wind and solar keep falling; decrepit old coal plants keep breaking down.

The rapid and convincing success of South Australia’s new 100MW Tesla grid battery is the most mediagenic example: after ridiculing the South Australian government for its energy policy, the federal Coalition has been forced to watch on with gritted teeth as the southern state has made good on its energy infrastructure promises.

Of course, energy policy is not really about the future of Australian energy system, at least not for the government.

It is instead about the internal politics of the Liberal Party, and the donors to that party in the resources sector.

For reasons that have nothing to do with the environment, and everything to do with ideology and money, energy and climate have become litmus tests for conservative doctrine.

Chest-puffing symbolism has become more important for the conservative faithful than any meaningful engagement with the real world, which is heating up rapidly and endangering the future of our children and grandchildren. The real world is also rapidly transforming its energy system. The myopic and stupid figures at the nexus of money and power in the Liberal Party are blind to this reality. But it is happening anyway.

In the meantime, Australia’s carbon emissions are rising. They are rising because the Turnbull government wants them to. That’s what happens when you abolish a tax on carbon, and refuse to regulate against fossil fuel pollution. That’s what happens when your entire energy policy is anti-renewable, and pro-coal. Rising emissions are Coalition policy.

Press link for more: New Matilda

It’s Time For Revolution! #auspol #qldpol #ClimateChange #Inequality kills millions!

For years I have begged for change.

I have copied thousands of links to science warning of catastrophic climate change.

Others have shone light on the inequalities built into our current political system.

We are running out of time!

It’s time for a revolution!

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xFHXDuVA-dk&t=33s

Great Barrier Grief #CoalWar #StopAdani #auspol #ClimateChange

Great barrier grief | Andrew Stafford on Patreon

On 2 January, at the Woodford Folk Festival, Russell Reichelt, chair of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, sat on a panel with Dr Fanny Douvere from UNESCO and popular science author and broadcaster Dr Karl Kruszelnicki. Calmly, Reichelt laid the hard facts about the future of Australia’s greatest living wonder on the table.

His words were tweeted by the official GBRMPA account. “We are in the midst of an unprecedented global coral crisis,” he said. “Corals can adapt, but not as quickly as ocean temperatures are changing.” The tweet concluded bluntly: “Solution: Rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero.”

7NewsCairns

On its own, this should have been big news.

Neither Reichelt nor the body he chairs, which reports to the federal government, is known for making rash statements, yet here he was calling the future of an entire ecosystem – upon which so much life, and so many livelihoods directly depend – into question.

It seemed almost unthinkable.

Unfortunately, it’s been all too thinkable for too long.

Two days later, Reichelt’s statement was followed by the release of a paper in the journal Science, which he clearly knew was imminent.

The paper warned that global warming was giving coral reefs insufficient time to recover from increasingly frequent bleaching events.

Indeed, they might be the new normal.

The paper, led by the Australian Institute of Marine Science’s Professor Terry Hughes and backed by 26 co-authors from around the world, studied 100 coral reefs internationally.

It found that the time between mass bleaching events had shrunk more than five-fold since the first recorded events in the 1980s.

Before that, such mass bleaching events were all but unheard of.

There’s a kind of dull fatigue setting in around this story, despite the ever more urgent warnings from the government’s own scientists and bureaucrats about the gravity of the situation.

Consecutive bleachings in the late summers of 2016 and 2017 left more than a quarter of the coral on the Great Barrier Reef dead; in the northern section of the park the figure was as high as 67 percent.

This last awful statistic is important, for it is often overlooked that this section of the park was considered the most pristine: i.e. it was the least affected by soil runoff, crown-of-thorns starfish (currently in plague proportions in the reef’s south) and other factors that politicians prefer to talk about when it comes to protecting Australia’s biggest natural icon.

They don’t want to talk about the brutally simple cause of the devastation in the north, and the cause of mass bleaching worldwide: the coral is cooking in above-average water temperatures.

For the solution to that problem, refer back to the GBRMPA’s tweet in the second paragraph of this post and remember, again, that it comes from the government’s own agency.

But politicians aren’t the only ones who don’t want to face up to the stark realities in front of them.

The Courier-Mail, Queensland’s sole statewide newspaper, has for years veered between outright denial, occasional acknowledgement, and prolonged, mystifying silence on what is by any rational measure the biggest story in the state. I’ve written about this before.

On Saturday, the day after the release of the Science paper, it was back in full-on denial mode. While the print edition of the paper carried no mention of the study or its implications for Queensland, its reputation and its economy, the online edition carried an op-ed that called not only the study, but science itself (the discipline, not the journal) into question.

“Our reef’s great, unlike a lot of the research about it” was the headline.

The author was Graham Young, executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress and former vice-president and campaign chairman of the Liberal Party in Queensland.

But let’s not get too bogged down in Young’s affiliations, or his and the AIP’s history of climate change denial.

Young described “reef in crisis” stories as being “as regular as summer thunderstorms”, and admits to the dull fatigue I referred to earlier, confessing he’s become less sensitive to each new claim “because the reef is manifestly, gloriously still there”. Indeed it is. But he doesn’t say whether he’s paid it a visit lately, or if so, exactly where he was, or what he saw.

Young’s piece is essentially based on two pretty shaky columns. The first is a 2005 paper by Dr John Ionnidis, “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”. Since then, Young claims that there have been a flood of other papers demonstrating that 50 percent or more studies are wrong “in most scientific fields”. Unfortunately, he doesn’t cite any.

The second is a paper published in the Marine Pollution Journal by Dr Piers Larcombe and Professor Peter Ridd, of James Cook University, which Young says suggests that not only is there “no need to worry”, but that “much of the science underpinning what we know about the GBR is wrong. And not only the GBR.”

Ridd is a geophysicist who has come into conflict with his peers at JCU. He is a dissenter on climate science and, according to DeSmogBlog, is the science director of a foundation that claims wind turbines make people sick. But let’s stick with Young’s article, which goes on to call “quality control in science an institutional problem we desperately need to solve”.

Indeed, he calls to “find ways to institutionalise dissent in our universities and scientific organisations”, suggesting an idea apparently imported from commerce by the US military: “red” and “blue” teams that would try to pick each other’s ideas apart in an attempt to reduce groupthink and confirmation bias.

This seems to be a pretty basic misunderstanding, if not a deliberate misrepresentation of how scientific method works. Almost by definition it’s built on sceptical inquiry. For a hypothesis to stand up, it needs to to be testable (and therefore, unlike an article of faith, capable of being disproven). So data is gathered, observations made, and theories developed.

Dissenting views in science are par for the course. The problem for Young is that there is very little scientific dissent about climate change, warming and acidifying oceans, and the resulting threat to coral reefs worldwide. To Young and his ilk, this must mean science itself is fundamentally corrupt. Now we’re getting into conspiracy theory territory.

I don’t want to go there, because arguing with conspiracy theorists rarely ends well (though it can be amusing, if only you’ve got the time). The point is that The Courier-Mail has moved from a long tradition of anti-intellectualism to a deeper, more disturbing malaise that’s gripped the Murdoch mastheads post-Trump: a furious populist assault on science and reason itself.

It’s doing its readers a disservice. For most of us, the Great Barrier Reef is a postcard; a tourist brochure; an Attenborough documentary. Whether we’ve actually visited this extraordinary natural wonder personally is almost immaterial: we have to try to imagine our state, our country, our very consciousness without it. And that, as I said earlier, is almost unthinkable.

But that is what we are facing within our lifetimes. Close to 70,000 jobs depend directly on the Great Barrier Reef, which brings in more than $6 billion annually. While The Courier-Mail continues to spruik a coal industry in seemingly terminal decline, time is running out to avert a looming economic, environmental and moral catastrophe.

Press link for more: Patreon.com

Coal War! #StopAdani #auspol #ClimateChange #AirPollution @KateRaworth #NaomiKlein

A News Corporation newspaper in Townsville Australia declares War on Stop Adani activists.

War on ordinary Australian moms and dads who have heard the warnings of scientists & doctors saying we are heading to catastrophic climate Change.

In Sydney on Saturday the temperature soared to 47C. The temperature in the centre of the Sydney Cricket Ground was measured at 56C.

Scientists are warning that heatwaves like this will be more frequent, hotter and last longer.

Predictions of 50C temperatures in Sydney & Melbourne by 2040 look to be a an understatement.

Most Australian journalists and politicians seem to support the opening of new coal mines even though the rest of the world is moving rapidly towards renewable energy.

Both the Liberal National Party and the Australian Labor Party are wedded to neoliberalism. An ideology that has a fundamental flaw, continuous growth is impossible on a finite planet.

Many leading economists are questioning neoliberalism and looking for alternatives.

Kate Raworth & Naomi Klein have both written excellent books on the problems of environmental degradation and inequality we are currently experiencing.

Instead of declaring war on ourselves let’s look for solutions to the enormous problems we are facing.

Our children and future generations are depending on us to solve the problems if not they will face a very uncertain future.

The Crisis of Dying Coral Reefs #ClimateChange #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani

Visiting the Great Barrier Reef, a reporter reflects on the crisis of dying coral reefs

Photos by Ian James | Published Dec. 19, 2017

Off the northeastern coast of Australia, I stood on the deck of a dive-boat watching whitecaps under a blue sky, excited that my 13-year-old son and I were on our way to the Great Barrier Reef.

We listened on deck with dozens of other scuba divers and snorkelers as one of the crew members gave a pre-dive talk. He said many people have been asking him lately whether a lot of the coral is now dead, and how long the reef might last. He explained that human-caused climate change is taking a major toll, leading to bleaching events that have degraded large portions of the reef. That degradation comes on top of other problems including ocean acidification and outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish.

“But really, is the reef dead? No, it’s definitely not dead,” he said, speaking into his headset microphone. “Basically, the reef is undergoing more and more threats every day. We’ve got to do something to preserve it.”

A view of the Great Barrier Reef from the deck of a dive-boat.

(Photo: Ian James/The Desert Sun)

As we motored on, I wondered how the reef would look. In the Caribbean and the Florida Keys, I’ve seen reefs at both ends of the spectrum — colorful corals filled with life, and patches of dead coral reduced to gray rubble. I’ve been dismayed to read scientists’ increasingly urgent warnings that as the world’s oceans heat up due to the burning of fossil fuels, many coral reefs may not be able to survive much longer.

I hadn’t been diving in several years, and my son’s school band trip to Australia in July seemed the perfect opportunity for him to be scuba certified so we could go diving together for the first time. I learned to dive when I was 13, and I’ve been fascinated ever since by the abundant kaleidoscope of life around coral reefs, and by the experience of exploring these oceanic rainforests. I wanted to share with him the magical experience of floating weightlessly beneath the waves, the excitement of discovery at spotting eels and sea turtles, and the awe of swimming through a living undersea sanctuary — one of the most diverse and productive ecosystems on the planet.

Even as I’ve learned about the serious threats facing reefs, I’ve also seen signs of resilience that have given me some hope. On a moonlit night 16 years ago on the island of Culebra off Puerto Rico, while I was working on a story about dying coral reefs in the Caribbean, I witnessed an amazing spectacle: the annual spawning of boulder coral. Tiny peach-colored eggs were released from the surface of the coral and floated away to form a new colony. The eggs drifted across the beam from my light and disappeared into the darkness.

I’ve always wanted to visit the Great Barrier Reef to see one of the world’s largest natural wonders. Built slowly over the ages by colonies of tiny coral polyps, it is so immense that it’s visible from space.

Scuba tanks line the back of a dive boat on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

As we prepared for our trip, I read about the alarming bleaching events that ravaged the reef in 2016 and again in 2017. This bleaching happens during extreme heat when coral polyps become stressed and expel their essential symbiotic algae, the zooxanthellae. When a coral colony is left white, it may be able to recover eventually if conditions are favorable. If not, the coral dies.

Last year, the northern section of the Great Barrier Reef suffered severe bleaching. This year, a central stretch of the reef was hit hardest, including some of the areas off Cairns where we were headed that day.

We gathered our masks and wetsuits, and began to suit up.

Reporter Ian James and his son pose for a photo while scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

(Photo: Ian James/The Desert Sun)

This day out was our second dive on the Great Barrier Reef. Earlier in the week we had taken a daylong snorkel-and-scuba trip to another part of the reef. There we saw schools of yellow and blueback fusilier, a huge Queensland grouper, outcroppings of living coral and a clownfish nestled among the undulating tentacles of an anemone.

This time, we were going out for a longer three-day cruise, and I was anxious to see how the coral was faring in this area.

At Norman Reef, we stepped off the boat’s back deck. As the bubbles cleared and I began to breathe from the regulator, my son and I gave each other “OK” signs and descended along the anchor line toward the sandy bottom. I was happy and proud seeing how he had learned his diving skills and seemed comfortable underwater.

Ahead of us, a column of coral and a reef wall rose from the sand. Swimming along the reef were multicolored parrotfish, sweetlips and wrasse. A moray eel peered out from the coral. Lionfish gathered around the base of a coral outcropping. A green sea turtle swam near the surface.

Corals and fish form a kaleidoscope of life along the Great Barrier Reef.

(Photo: Ian James/The Desert Sun)

There were boulder corals the size of cars, and looking closely at the surface of the coral, we saw spiral-shaped Christmas tree worms. As we approached, the worms quickly retracted into holes.

The Great Barrier Reef is made up of hundreds of different types of corals, and some of them are faring better than others as global temperatures rise.

I noticed that many of the corals were alive, with colors from green to brownish to pink. But the branching tips of some corals were bleached white.

I found myself wondering: What would this reef have looked like 20 years ago? And how might it look 20 years from now?

Another thought troubled me: Might I be looking at a reef that future generations won’t have the opportunity to see alive?

Corals spread out just beneath the surface in a shallow area of the Great Barrier Reef. The reef suffered back-to-back bleaching events in 2016 and 2017.

Over the next two days, we anchored at other reefs. We spotted yellow butterflyfish, pufferfish and the aptly named unicorn fish. We saw a whitetip reef shark sleeping on the sandy bottom, and gray reef sharks circling near the boat.

When we went diving at night, we saw green sea turtles and a silvery fish called giant trevally. A whitetip reef shark swam past at a distance, its eyes glowing green in our lights.

A snorkeler explores the corals on the Great Barrier Reef.

(Photo: Ian James/The Desert Sun)

On dives during the day, we saw giant clams four feet across with iridescent green dots on the flesh between their gaping shells, and tiny white gobies that darted into holes in the sand to hide.

We swam through coral canyons and along reef walls, past swaying sea fans, majestic staghorn corals and giant brain corals.

At a place called Coral Gardens at Hastings Reef, on one of our last dives of the trip, I snapped photos of a giant clam and marveled at the variety of fish and the colorful coral. The closer we looked at the coral, the more reef-dependent creatures we saw, from a bright blue fish to a tiny crab camouflaged in the coral.

There too, we saw areas where the corals looked damaged, colorless and gray.

Even as we saw reefs that seemed mostly alive, I thought this must be an example of “shifting baselines,” in which the degradation is unfolding gradually in ways that are hard for casual observers to notice.

Looking at the reef as a whole, though, there is nothing subtle about the devastating changes that scientists have been documenting.

Researcher Terry Hughes, who leads a coral reef studies center at James Cook University, said in a widely cited tweet after last year’s bleaching event that he had showed the results of aerial surveys to his students, “and then we wept.”

The reef was hit by earlier mass bleachings in 1998 and 2002, and warming ocean temperatures are leading to more frequent and more severe damage.

Clownfish stay close to an anemone in an area of damaged coral on the Great Barrier Reef.

(Photo: Ian James/The Desert Sun)

In an article after this year’s bleaching event, Hughes and fellow researcher James Kerry wrote that the combined footprint of the unprecedented back-to-back bleaching now covers two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef.

“We have a narrowing window of opportunity to tackle global warming, and no time to lose in moving to zero net carbon emissions. We have already seen four major bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef with just 1°C of global average warming,” Hughes and Kerry wrote in the article.

They warned that “if the world continues its business-as-usual greenhouse emissions for several more decades, it will almost certainly spell the end of the Great Barrier Reef as we now know it.”

RELATED: Two-thirds of Great Barrier Reef ravaged by coral bleaching

MORE: Scientists race to prevent wipeout of world’s coral reefs

In one recent study published in the journal Nature, researchers used satellite temperature data from 1985 to 2012 to study the effects of warming in causing bleaching stress on reefs around the world. The scientists found that the frequency of bleaching-level heat stress increased three-fold during that time. They said based on current trends, by 2050 “more than 98% of reefs are expected to be exposed to bleaching-level thermal stress” every year.

Shafts of light cast patterns on large boulder corals on the Great Barrier Reef.

(Photo: Ian James/The Desert Sun)

Around the world, many coral reefs have already been lost due to pressures ranging from polluted runoff to overfishing, and scientists are trying to find ways to help save at least some of the remaining reefs.

Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, are leading a project called the 100 Island Challenge, using imaging and data technologies to “archive reefs digitally” and monitor how they change over time. The effort aims to generate information about local management approaches that can help protect reefs.

In Australia, scientists collected samples of surviving coral from northern areas of the Great Barrier Reef damaged by bleaching. The researchers packaged samples in boxes filled with seawater and flew them last month to a specialized lab, the National Sea Simulator, where they’re testing whether these corals could help produce offspring that are more heat-tolerant in other areas of the reef.

This research is one of several studies intended to help restore reefs or boost their ability to withstand rising temperatures and worsening acidification. And these efforts speak to just how serious the situation has become for reefs worldwide.

Snorkelers swim from a boat toward the Great Barrier Reef.

(Photo: Ian James/The Desert Sun)

Coral reefs are important for so many reasons. They sustain fishing communities around the world. They generate some of the oxygen that we breathe. And although they cover a small fraction of the oceans, they provide habitat for about a fourth of marine species.

I don’t want to imagine a world with most of its coral reefs dead, but scientists say that looks possible without bigger efforts to combat climate change.

After we returned home, my son wrote some his thoughts about our visit to the reef.

“I saw so much life and movement, fish, turtles and more swimming in every direction,” he wrote. He said that while the reef has been bleached at an alarmingly rapid rate, much of what he saw “was still completely stunning.”

“It is at the tipping point, where we still have the power to help before its demise,” he wrote. “Lowering global greenhouse gas emissions through renewable energy, electric cars and more can help stop the degrading of this marine paradise.”

I’m grateful that we saw the Great Barrier Reef together. We came away with a shared appreciation of how magnificent and vital the reef is, and how threatened it has become.

Ian James writes about environmental issues for The Desert Sun. He can be reached by email at ian.james@desertsun.com and on Twitter at @TDSIanJames.

CLIMATE POINT: Sign up for our climate change and environment newsletter

Various types of coral cover this portion of the Great Barrier Reef, where a large boulder coral stands in the background.

Press link for more: Desert sun.com

Baba Brinkman makes Climate Rap hot. #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani

Rapper’s Lyrics about Climate Change Are Smart

Baba Brinkman makes climate rap hot

Mark FischettiDecember 27, 2017

Credit: Olivia Sebesky

Want to hear the most cogent scientific, social and political arguments about climate change?

Check out Baba Brinkman’s song “Make It Hot.” Brinkman is a Canadian rapper who has garnered fame for his various collections of work, such as The Rap Guide to Religion.

He’s become a bit of a phenomenon in the science and policy community, first with The Rap Guide to Evolution and his more recent collection of 24 songs called The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos.

He performed what may be his biggest hit, “Make It Hot,” at the COP21 climate meeting in Paris. And I heard him perform that piece last week at the AGU Annual Meeting in New Orleans, a conference of 23,000 earth, climate and space scientists. The audience was spellbound.

The organizers invited Brinkman, who now lives in New York City, to perform the song at the beginning of a major keynote address for the week. Not knowing what to expect, the audience was a little skeptical when Brinkman appeared—a tall, clean cut, well-dressed, middle-aged man who began by talking about climate, not rapping. But the large crowd became thoroughly enthralled after he got about a minute into the song. That’s because the lyrics are smart. Really smart.

I’m not the first to write about Brinkman’s work, but this may be the first time you’ve heard about him. Rather than me say more, just read the lyrics for yourself, below. I’ve highlighted a couple lines in particular that struck me. You can also see Brinkman perform the song on YouTube, below.

Enjoy. And share; the song will make people reflect about the role they, and all of us, play in making the climate issue hot.

“Make It Hot”

Written by D. Brinkman and D. Moross

Advertisement

Scientists are telling us that we’re standing on a precipice

And we have to convert the global economy and make it emission-less

And those emissions are caused by every single one of our jobs

Every one of us contributing carbon emissions to the smog

For instance, if I write a rhyme tryin’ to describe climate change

And it’s hot, so it catches on, someone’s gonna fly me someplace

To perform it, and the appeal of that is enormous

It’s not an option for me to turn down work for global warming

‘Cause I make it hot, people say my rhymes are dope

I twist words until they’re unrecognizable

I make it hot, make it heezy fa sheezy

So hot even climate change skeptics will believe me

I make it hot, like the temperature it needs to be

Before the tea party will believe the IPCC

I make it hot, I liquefy the Greenland ice sheets

Seven meters of sea level rise, that’ll do nicely

And yeah, humans are adaptable, and we can toughen up

But that response ignores people who feel like it’s already tough enough

Make a list of countries that nobody visits as a tourist
They have low carbon emissions, the richest inflicted this on the poorest

We did it by heating our houses, and feeding our spouses

And flying and driving places and having no patience for power outages

The Pope calls it anthropocentric, he calls it obnoxious

But I got work to do, and work takes energy to accomplish

And I make it hot, I turn up the heat on the crowd

You make it hot too though, so don’t try to be weaseling out

I make it hot like the African sun

Like the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum

I make it hot, feel that bass when it vibrates

Hot like the permafrost releasing methyl hydrates

I make it hot, like a planet with low albedo

Like me rockin’ a trench coat on a beach instead of a speedo

Hot with no apologies, but still I’m feelin’ a lot grief

For the impact my lifestyle has on the planet’s ecology

My carbon footprint is bigger than crypto-zoology’s

I’m talkin’ Loch Ness monstrous, so I’m not at peace

Because the aggregate effect of every decision I’m makin’ is tragic

But I can’t just quit, they say that we’re “carbon emission addicts”

But that’s just glib, you want me to live in poverty abject

And if I did, what happens to greenhouse gasses on average?

If I quit and you don’t, it’s still hell in a hand-basket

Advertisement

A traffic jam with no plan of action, fantastic

This is a classic arms race that we’re trapped in, it’s ominous

Self-interested parties stuck in a tragedy of the commons

The problem is caused by our collective emissions of carbon

But the person who emits is not the person emissions are harmin’

So it’s a failure of the market, everyone is incentivized

To pollute as much as they can get away with, and catch a free ride

So it’s no surprise to see emissions on the rise
When the cost of burning fossil fuel is externalized

It’s effectively subsidized, it’s paid for by the victims

Of the eventual climate impacts caused by our emissions

And Bill McKibben and the Guardian have been targeting investments

Like: Dirty energy is the new tobacco, so keep your distance

From anybody makin’ a profit off of fossil fuels

Cool, I’m down with the boycott, I’m just boycotting myself too

‘Cause I make it hot, I cause a heat wave

How about nine degrees hotter than the hottest ones these days?

I make it hot, like climate refugees

Picture a hot hundred million displaced Bangladeshis

I make it hot, split flames, rap metaphors

A five-alarm blaze killing the last redwood forest

I make it hot, I make it six degrees

Causing the extinction of forty percent of species

Hot! So what are we left with?

A speeding train with no brakes, some kind of a death wish?

A scientific consensus that we’re standing on a precipice

And a population with no idea of how to reduce their emissions

Some people do offset their footprint voluntarily

With the milk of human altruism, hope, faith and charity

But that’s not gonna cut it – it’s not counterproductive

But we got a global carbon budget and it’s globally busted

And there are hundreds of gigatons that you would have to offset

You might as well donate your piggy bank to the national debt

I ain’t got no spare change to donate to carbon offsetting

I don’t even want to calculate my footprint, I find it upsetting

It’s like the medieval Catholic church, back when it was indulgence-selling

If you get a big mac and a diet coke, your belly is still swelling

But here’s what I’m willing: I’m willing to pay a tax

A fee that’s calculated against my carbon impacts

And globally harmonized to switch incentives around

And make sure most of that carbon stays safely underground

But I’m not gonna pay it, not unless you all pay it too

That way I can be sure that you’ll do what you say you’ll do

How about everyone has to pay it, no free riders allowed

No international pact with the US or China left out

You can invest it in green R&D, or you can dividend it back to me

But either way I won’t be happy until the day they’re carbon taxing me

Advertisement

‘Cause then I can make it hot, without ever feelin’ a chill

I’m sick of the guilt trip killin’ my high when I’m feelin’ a thrill

So I make it hot, I get your emotions aroused

If we can’t make those hot, we’re not gonna keep the oceans down

So let’s make it hot, people, let’s turn up the heat

On polluters tryin’ to catch a ride on all the rest of us for free

I make it hot on the mic and in my social life

When I agitate for my friends to agitate for a carbon price

And that’s how you make it hot

From The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos, released September 30, 2016

Written by D. Brinkman and D. Moross

Press link for more: Scientific American

Best Environmental Journalism 2017 #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani

Our Favorite Environmental Journalism of 2017

Popular Dec. 26, 2017 01:01PM EST

By Joe Sandler Clarke and Unearthed reporters

From the finest American journalism chronicling the worst excesses of the Trump administration to international stories showing the impact of climate change on the developing world, here are the stories we wish we had written this year.

On our changing climate

Alaska’s permafrost is no longer permanent – New York Times, Henry Fountain @henryfountain

This striking New York Times piece is one of those rare pieces of journalism that communicates an issue so effectively and with such clarity that the reader is able to immediately grasp the complex science that too often makes environmental journalism impenetrable.

The perfect storm – Reveal

Hurricane Harvey pummelled Houston in August, and Reveal reporter Neena Satija was there to document the city’s unpreparedness for the storm. This piece is a follow-up to Hell and High Water, the extraordinary 2016 joint investigation by ProPublica, The Texas Tribune and Reveal.

One of the clearest signs of climate change in Hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey was the rain – Vox, Umair Irfan @umairfan

We were crying out for a piece of forensic reporting setting out the links between climate change and this summer’s storms in the Caribbean and southern America, and Umair Irfan delivered. This is the kind of explanatory journalism Vox excels at.

The U.S. flooded one of Houston’s richest neighborhoods to save everyone else – Bloomberg Businessweek, Shannon Sims @shannongsims

Another piece on the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. This cover story from Bloomberg Businessweek gives an insight into what a natural disaster looks like in one of America’s most important economic areas. As Sims herself said, this is an article about “what justice looks like in a changing climate.”

Why climate change is creating a new generation of child brides – The Observer, Gethin Chamberlain @newsandpics

Stories that connect climate change with real human consequences should be the gold standard of environmental reporting. This piece from the Observer does just that, showing how increased droughts and floods are forcing farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to give away their daughters to stay out of poverty.

‘Not a single thing was dry’: Mumbai’s residents count the cost of floods – The Guardian, Amrit Dhillon and Carlin Carr

Devastating floods in South Asia made for one of the most dramatic environmental stories this year. In this piece, Mumbai residents talk to the Guardian about facing up to the torrential rains.

Mapped: How UK foreign aid is spent on climate change – Carbon Brief, Rosamund Pearce @_rospearce and Leo Hickman @LeoHickman

Rich countries are providing aid to help developing nations adapt to climate change. But how much is being spent? Who is spending it? And where is the money going? Back in October, Carbon Brief set out to answer these questions. A month later, they also mapped how multilateral climate funds spend their money.

On Trump

Under Trump, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has slowed actions against polluters, and put limits on enforcement officers – New York Times, Eric Lipton @EricLiptonNYT and Danielle Ivory @danielle_ivory

While the president’s agenda has largely floundered in Congress, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt‘s efforts to undo Obama-era environmental rules have happened at a rapid pace. This New York Times piece sets out just what the agency has been up to in the first year of the Trump presidency.

Why the scariest nuclear threat may be coming from inside the White House – Vanity Fair, Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis has done some amazing work chronicling the Trump administration. We could easily have picked his piece on the administration’s actions against scientists in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But with the news dominated by fears over North Korea, this look at U.S. nuclear policy at home was timely and fascinating.

America’s climate refugees have been abandoned by Trump – Mother Jones, Kyla Mandel @kylamandel

With Puerto Rico and the Gulf Coast devastated by hurricanes this year, Kyla Mandel reported on the Trump administration’s efforts to cut support for American communities at the forefront of climate change.

Bombs in your backyard – ProPublica

It turns out that the U.S. military spends more than a billion dollars a year cleaning up sites it has contaminated with explosives and toxic chemicals. Some of these areas are near schools and residential neighborhoods. We know this because ProPublica went ahead and mapped them.

On the shifting energy system

How China floated to the top in solar – Time, Charlie Campbell @CharlieCamp6ell

This was the year the world got serious about green energy, and this feature from Time magazine tells the story of how China became a leader in renewable energy. We liked this line from Sang Dajie, a former coal miner who now works on the world’s largest floating solar farm: “The coal mine was very hot and the air was bad. But here I feel safe. The new energy is safe.”

The story behind this days-long traffic jam in Mongolia – Quartz, Johnny Simon

China may be leading the world on renewable energy, but it still loves coal. This photo gallery was a clear illustration of the country’s energy conundrum.

The race to solar-power Africa – New Yorker, Bill McKibben @billmckibben

Activist and journalist Bill McKibben reported on how American start-ups are competing with Chinese and European firms, and homegrown companies, to provide cheap, reliable power to a continent where fossil fuels have failed to spark development.

The town that disappeared – BBC News, Jenny Norton

Across Russia, hundreds of small towns have been abandoned in the past ten years as coal mining becomes increasingly unviable in the country and the fallout from the collapse of the Soviet Union continues.

Russia-backed hackers try to hijack Britain’s power supply – The Times, Aaron Rogan and Mark Bridge

Amid the flurry of concern about hacking in the U.S. election, The Times reported in June that Russian hackers attacked networks running the national grid in the UK. A couple of days later, Motherboard, Vice’s sister tech publication, reported that GCHQ believed the hackers had already compromised UK energy sector targets.

On the new and persistent threats to the environment

Series: So I can breathe – BBC World Service

There have been plenty of air pollution stories in the media over the last 12 months, but this series of programs broadcast across BBC platforms in March caught our eye for reporting on solutions to the global crisis.

Vladimir’s Venezuela: Leveraging loans to Caracas, Moscow snaps up oil assets – Reuters, Marianna Parraga and Alexandra Ulmer

Venezuela’s economy is unravelling and, as this special report from Reuters in August shows, the country’s socialist government is taking increasingly drastic measures to survive.

Attack of the bee killers – Politico, Giulia Paravicini @giuliaparavicin and Simon Marks @MarksSimon

2017 saw even more scientific research linking bee deaths with controversial pesticides called neonicotinoids. This piece in Politico methodically and forcefully lays out how chemical giants Bayer and Syngenta have lobbied EU politicians for years to weaken regulations.

There’s an army of Indian Twitter accounts pushing suspiciously identical pro-mining tweets – BuzzFeed, Mark Di Stefano @MarkDiStef

With Indian mining company Adani seeking support for a controversial coal project on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef, the company’s boss Gautam Adani visited Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in April. As BuzzFeed reported, his visit was wildly cheered on by a bunch of definitely real Indian tweeters who all believed that Adani would bring coal jobs to Queensland.

A fight for Brazil’s Amazon forest – Financial Times, Sue Branford

Since Michel Temer became president in August 2016, Brazilian politics has been dominated by rollbacks for key environmental and Indigenous protections. In September, as part of the FT’s ‘Brazil: the Road Ahead’ series, Sue Branford reported on the new scramble for natural resources in the Brazilian Amazon.

Environmental defenders being killed in record numbers globally, new research reveals – The Guardian, Jonathan Watts @jonathanwatts and John Vidal @john_vidal

Protecting the environment is an increasingly dangerous thing to do. This research by Global Witness found that in 2016, 200 environmental activists and others protecting their land from destructive industries were killed—and the rate only increased in 2017. This story launched The Defenders, an ongoing collaboration between the Guardian and Global Witness tracking such killings.

Press link for more: Ecowatch.com

2017 A year of dark hours & green optimism #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani

James Murray reviews a year in which terrifying climate impacts wrestled with heartening green business breakthroughs

The default setting of business is optimism.

No one starts a company imagining the day bailiffs knock at the door.

No one goes to a job interview and asks about the redundancy package.

Optimism is doubly important to green businesses.

There is the standard commercial optimism the enterprise will prove a world-beating success. And then there is the environmentalists’ optimism that they might deliver world-saving success.

The past year has seen this optimism sorely tested. Not to breaking point – never to breaking point. But it has still been more brutally challenged than at any point in the decade BusinessGreen has been covering these issues.

The terrifying metrics have been repeated so often they risk losing potency, but there is no alternative but to keep facing up to them.

The story that should dominate every end of year round up from every media outlet on the planet came last month in the form of two reports released at the UN climate summit in Bonn.

The first confirmed atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are at their highest levels in at least 800,000 years and possibly three to five million years.

As Dr Emily Shuckburgh of the British Antarctic Survey told the BusinessGreen Leaders’ Summit this autumn, the last time concentrations of greenhouse gas were as high as they are now sea levels were around 10 metres higher.

Up to two metres of sea level rise this century is now entirely plausible.

However, it was the second report that was the real kicker.

The Global Carbon Project predicted carbon emissions will rise this year after four years when flat emissions fuelled hopes global economic growth and carbon emissions had been decoupled.

There are reasons to hope this is just a blip. The data is preliminary and the primary driver of any increase appears to be lower than expected hydropower output in China, which in turn led to an uptick in coal use. But China remains firmly committed to curbing its coal use and recently confirmed plans for a national carbon market to help drive the switch to cleaner energy sources.

Economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions have not suddenly recoupled.

And yet, even if the estimates of rising emissions prove to be overly pessimistic one thing is clear: they are not falling, are they? And they need to – fast.

Again at our BusinessGreen Leaders’ Summit, M&S’s Mike Barry observed that if, as the world’s science academies insist, we need to ensure global emissions peak by 2020 before falling sharply we have just 1,000 days to save the world.

With each day, month, year that passes the climate crisis gets more daunting.

But for all the progress made by green businesses the lack of urgency amongst political and business elites, not to mention the general populus, remains as palpable as it is terrifying.

Alongside the scientific warnings came economic studies showing investment in clean energy is likely to fall this year.

Thankfully levels of renewables deployment keep rising because the fall in investment is largely a function of the near miraculous reductions in the cost of clean power.

But even taking these plummeting cost into account, overall investment should not be falling – the decarbonisation challenge is too urgent for us to take our time.

The hope remains that once the impacts of climate change become truly explicit a full spectrum response will follow.

But here too optimism and sea fronts took a battering in 2017.

To borrow Al Gore’s line, the newsreels have looked like a “nature hike through the Book of Revelation”.

Despite the lack of an El Nino effect, 2017 is set to be the second or third hottest year on record; hurricanes unprecedented in their power pummelled the US and Caribbean; the largest wildfires California has ever seen burned deep into the Northern Hemisphere winter; scientists warned the “Arctic shows no sign of returning to the reliably frozen region of recent past decades”; studies revealed an ‘ecological armageddon‘ amongst insect populations; droughts fuelled famine and insecurity across East Africa and the Middle East; the UN warned the number of chronically undernourished people has risen for the first time since the turn of the century due in large part to climate impacts. “Alarm bells we cannot ignore,” declared the UN – and yet we can and we do.

Good men and women sought to amplify these alarm bells. David Wallace Wells penned an epic examination of the long tail, unlikely but not impossible risks of full-blown climate breakdown that we all too easily ignore (and got attacked by people who should know better for his trouble). Bill McKibben continued his campaign to raise awareness of the “hot new world” we live in. Emily Shuckburgh teamed up with Tony Juniper and Prince of Wales to produce a beautiful little book that attempted to explain climate risks to new audiences. The peerless George Monbiot again and again highlighted the terrifying and credible environmental projections coming out of the scientific community. Eric Holthaus documented the ‘ice apocalypse’ that is underway at the planet’s poles.

Meanwhile, in the world of business and politics AXA CEO Thomas Buberl pointedly observed that a “+4C world is not insurable”. Mark Carney continued to warn of climate risk and the “tragedy of the horizon”. President Macron stepped seamlessly into the role of global climate leader with his campaign to “make our planet great again”.

One of the few upsides of the climate crisis is it has unleashed a wave of evocative writing and memorable sound bites. Although it’s not much compensation, to be honest. I’d settle for fewer great essays and a more habitable biosphere.

Faced with the litany of climate impacts and avalanche of warnings, David Powell of the New Economics Foundation asked “what is this pathology”? What is it in our psychological make up that allows societies to accept these realities and then fail to adequately respond to them? To essentially shrug off the credible risk of apocalypse?

Pathology is the right word and if it is not yet fully understood we do know the evidence of it is everywhere. Because if 2017 was bleak from an environmental perspective, the political climate felt little better.

2017 was the year when the world’s understanding of the most powerful man on the planet moved from ‘he’s not necessarily dangerous and racist, he just says dangerous and racist things’ to ‘he is dangerous and racist, but he’s not necessarily fascist, he just says fascist things’.

Who knows where we go next.

To watch a US administration that has been completely captured by climate sceptic ideologues responding to hurricanes and wildfires with barely literate hymns to coal power and Arctic drilling felt like a sick joke.

But this disconnect is everywhere.

Mark Campanale of the Carbon Tracker think tank told a story this year of a meeting with a group of fund managers in California, where he struggled to convince them of the  climate-related risks in their portfolio even as they looked out the window of the skyscraper they were in and watched fires burn on the horizon.

In her MaddAddam trilogy, the novelist Margaret Atwood envisages a Church of PetrOleum that preaches about how “oil is holy throughout the Bible”. As the Trump administration releases a National Security Strategy that argues US leadership is “indispensable” in pushing back against an “anti-growth” and borderline immoral climate agenda, Atwood’s dystopian imaginings have never felt more prescient.

On this side of the Atlantic, the pathology is nowhere near as prevalent, but climate action has still been comprehensively overshadowed by the unending psychodrama that is Brexit.

There may well be good reasons to leave the EU and Brexit may yet be delivered in a way that averts national disaster. But watching the past year of ministerial mis-steps, botched elections, and Brussels-related monomania has only emphasised how Brexit remains a dire distraction from the real economic, social, and environmental challenges the UK faces.

When even one of the architects of the Vote Leave campaign has said he thought calling the referendum was a terrible idea and there were numerous other reforms the government should have pursued before addressing its relationship with the EU, it is hard to conclude the UK is engaged in anything other than an era-shaping bout of displacement activity – an exercise that could yet hand control of the government to a hard right cabal of climate sceptic, libertarian hacks.

But then again, we are hardly alone.

2017 has seen the forces of authoritarianism on the march – often with a battalion of climate scepticism on their right flank.

In Turkey, in Russia, in Hungary, in the US, even in Germany where support for the hard right effectively denied Merkel the opportunity to move forward with more ambitious decarbonisation plans, the kind of nationalist politics the West thought had been confined to the history books has enjoyed a shocking revival. As one observer put it on Twitter: “Nazis are bad. That is not an argument I was expecting to have to reprosecute”.

2017 was the year the political and cultural cold war that has been simmering since the 2008 financial crash broke into the open.

It is a battle progressive forces cannot duck away from, but it is also of grave concern that a time when international co-operation is desperately required to tackle the escalating climate threat the necessary geopolitical priority has become containing the spread of nationalist autocracy and avoiding the very real risk of a volatile and cornered US president turning trade wars into shooting wars.

The parallels with the 1930s may be imperfect, but at times they have felt fearfully relevant.

Faced with all this the one dominant question of the past year has been how to respond?

How do we get from ratcheting tensions and interlocking crises which are so reminiscent of the 1930s to a new green economic settlement and global low carbon infrastructure blitz to echo the 1950s and 1960s, only without going through any equivalent of the 1940s?

The truth is no-one has the answer.

Many of the people I speak to through my work at BusinessGreen are more worried than they have ever been.

On the record, the veneer of corporate optimism remains in place.

Off the record, for many the nagging sense that we are not making sufficient progress, that the risks are becoming ever more daunting is becoming harder to resist.

The green economy is chalking up more victories than ever before, but like an Escher Drawing the road ahead keeps getting steeper.

As a journalist I have no such professional constraints and few qualms about admitting how scared I become when considering the Himalayan environmental risks we face, which, inevitably, is most days.

When the most important thing in your life is two sons under the age of three and you have a good chance of living well into the second half of the century, the fact the worst climate impacts will not be felt for decades is little comfort.

Where then is the optimism to be found?

Was 2017 really that bleak?

Or are there countervailing forces mobilising against the elite-level indifference and vested interests that have acted a drag on green economic progress?

The good news – and there is good news – is that while they struggled to command headlines there were plenty of encouraging developments to pierce the gloom.

The best news came not in the form of the incremental environmental improvements made by thousands of businesses and governments around the world, but in the signs of inter-locking, economy-wide, systems level change that could yet provide a route to curbing global emissions during the 2020s.

More encouraging still, the pace at which these welcome developments are moving from well-meaning idea to global trend or technological breakthrough appears to be accelerating, even as public support for decarbonisation grows.

The Powering Past Coal Alliance provided one such example, moving from a concept cooked up by the British and Canadian government to a global push backed by over 50 countries, regions and businesses within a matter of months.

Similarly, the Taskforce for Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) has, in less than a year, moved from an academic exercise to a market-shaping endeavour fully endorsed by 225 global investors with more than $26.3tr in assets under management and 237 firms with a market capitalisation of $6.3tr. It is easy to see how within a few short years every listed company on the planet will face calls from shareholders to explain how they plan to adjust to a decarbonising economy and escalating climate risks.

The divestment trend has enjoyed a longer gestation period, but this year again saw significant breakthroughs. Arguably the three most powerful and influential investors in the world – Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, the World Bank, and Blackrock – all took sizeable steps towards either ending investment in carbon intensive assets or engaging with companies to force them to come forward with climate strategies.

Many of the bellwether businesses that set global corporate norms refused to bow to the bully in the White House and quietly intensified their climate strategies. At the last count over 300 companies had committed to setting and meeting science-based emissions targets. Coupled with the RE100 initiative to source 100 per cent renewables, the EP100 initiative to double energy productivity, and the EV100 initiative to switch to electric fleets, this year saw the emergence of a viable blueprint to decarbonise multinational giants.

Crucially, we even began to see some of the oil and energy majors get in on the act. DONG Energy changed its name to Ørsted, because the ONG stood for oil and gas and it didn’t want to do that anymore. Shell opened its first electric vehicle charging stations and BP returned to the solar market. Only this week BHP Billiton said it was preparing to quit the World Coal Association over a stance on climate change the mining giant regarded as less than constructive.

These corporate trends formed a virtuous circle with similarly encouraging technological trends. Records for renewables costs and output were toppled. In the UK, the first day without coal power since the Industrial Revolution was recorded. The offshore wind industry delivered a previously unimaginable feat of engineering and economics, declaring it had halved the cost of the power it could deliver inside four years. Solar, wind, and energy storage costs kept falling and smart grid functionality continued to improve, making renewables the default option for new generation projects in a growing number of countries, even when grid balancing costs are considered.

In the field of transport, Volvo pledged to end the sale of conventional internal combustion engine cars, as auto giants around the world rushed to electrify their fleets in response to tightening air quality rules and mounting consumer interest. Elon Musk unveiled an electric truck that could conceivably transform global supply chains (and delivered the world’s largest battery storage project inside 100 days for good measure). Progress in green aviation and shipping industry continued to disappoint, but there were signs key players such as Airbus and Rolls Royce are finally starting to take decarbonisation seriously with fresh investments in the development of electric aircraft.

In many countries a third force also contributed to this virtuous circle, as two years on from the Paris Agreement governments began to strengthen the climate policy landscape.

Emmanuel Macron pulled off a shock election victory on a platform that prioritised bold climate action. The Chinese government continued to work on an emissions trading scheme that will dwarf the original European market, and the EU edged forward with plans for a new wave of post-2020 climate goals.

In the UK, an election that saw the ruling Conservative Party lose votes because of the perception it did not care about the environment sparked something of a green policy arms race. Now the talk in Westminster is of a Green Brexit, a plastic pollution crackdown, and an industrial and clean growth strategy centred on clean tech innovation, low carbon infrastructure, and green finance. The policy signals in support of green investment and corporate decarbonisation have never been stronger.

Meanwhile, 2017 has also emphasised how change is afoot amongst the public. Polls show how people under 40 are demanding ever more environmental action from political and business leaders. The lag time between the launch of a campaign – on plastic waste or air quality, for example – and it reaching the critical mass at which companies and governments have to respond is shortening all the time.

Globally, millennials’ frustration with a broken economic system that is degrading the planet and struggling to deliver on its promises is only going to grow. At the same time younger people’s willingness to engage with new business models and emerging value systems that place less emphasis on endless consumption is opening up fascinating new economic possibilities. Culturally, the #MeToo movement has powerfully demonstrated how toxic behaviours that have been tolerated for decades can quickly be called to account once a social tipping point is triggered.

All these trends have not yet added up to a tangible reduction in global emissions, but there are encouraging signs that one day soon they could.

A report from the World Resources Institute this year revealed 49 countries covering around 36 per cent of global emissions have already seen their carbon output peak. Separately, a report from IRENA explored how the national climate action plans put forward under the Paris Agreement are underselling the amount of renewable energy capacity many countries are planning to deploy. There are reasons to think that while we are not yet doing enough to avoid the worst climate change impacts, the proven viability of clean technologies and strengthening market forces mean we might be doing a bit better than we think.

Of course, the problem all these sources of green optimism face can be summed up in one word: politics. Both corporate politics and politics politics.

For every company pursuing a credible decarbonisation strategy there are many more staring at their shoes whenever the subject of climate action is brought up. I had lunch recently with a sustainability executive who admitted the failure to pick the lowest of low hanging fruit remained a source of constant frustration. The example they offered was LED lighting – an established technology that can deliver payback periods of less than two years, millions of pounds in savings, and millions more tonnes of emissions reductions. And yet a combination of chronic short termism, management incompetence, and the failure to prioritise climate action mean thousands of firms are deferring investment in a technology that could save them money.

The political sphere sees much the same phenomenon. Leaving aside the dysfunction of the Trump administration, around the world there are numerous well-meaning political leaders who are happy embracing climate action, but only up to the point where they face even the smallest amount of pushback from the media or vested interests.

This year the UK government unveiled a welcome and ambitious Clean Growth Strategy, but it was hamstrung by the failure to properly fund new energy efficiency programmes and the inability of the government to face down the handful of vocal media critics who loathe onshore wind and solar farms. Only this week the government put forward a diluted plan to improve the efficiency of the coldest private rental properties, weakening its emissions-saving ambition in order to keep landlords happy. Some days it feels like Theresa May might as well have done with it and just give Paul Dacre a seat at the cabinet table.

But if green business optimism has been tested in 2017 it has remained intact, and not just for professional and psychological reasons.

The chasm between the best and the worst of the past year is itself a source of hope, as well as fear. The hope is that while the forces of reactionary nationalism may be enjoying a good run they are at the same time fuelling a backlash, which, when it comes, will usher in a whole new era of progressive economics and values.

It is too early to say for sure, but it is possible the rise of Trumpism represents a final noxious belch for an entitled pollutocrat class of toxic masculinity that has dangerously stirred up a hornets’ nest of populist nationalism in order to defend its unsustainable interests. If this movement was to collapse under its own contradictions and corruptions, and a peaceful pushback could be engineered, then climate action and the green businesses that are driving it are perfectly positioned to build a new economic model that both tackles the environmental crisis and addresses the social challenges that gave rise to the new populists in the first place.

As 2017 draws to a close it is hard to tell whether we are approaching a turning point from which global climate action will rapidly accelerate, or are treading water as some terrifying political and climatic forces gain momentum.

If global greenhouse gas emissions really are rising again, if Trump’s world view does become normalised, if the bursting of the carbon bubble prompts petro-states to lash out in defence of their diminishing power, then there is no denying the outlook could get bleak, and fast.

But then again, as Bob Dylan once sang, “they say the darkest hour is right before the dawn”. As a New Year awaits the job of green businesses is to nurture their natural optimism, face down their opponents, and redouble efforts to build a genuinely sustainable economy as quickly as possible.

A brighter 2018 is not just possible, it’s essential.

Press link for more: Business Green