Extinction

Large Sections of Great Barrier Reef Are dead. #auspol #qldpol 

Large Sections of Australia’s Great Reef Are Now Dead, Scientists Find

SYDNEY, Australia — The Great Barrier Reef in Australia has long been one of the world’s most magnificent natural wonders, so enormous it can be seen from space, so beautiful it can move visitors to tears.
But the reef, and the profusion of sea creatures living near it, are in profound trouble.
Huge sections of the Great Barrier Reef, stretching across hundreds of miles of its most pristine northern sector, were recently found to be dead, killed last year by overheated seawater. More southerly sections around the middle of the reef that barely escaped then are bleaching now, a potential precursor to another die-off that could rob some of the reef’s most visited areas of color and life.

“We didn’t expect to see this level of destruction to the Great Barrier Reef for another 30 years,” said Terry P. Hughes, director of a government-funded center for coral reef studies at James Cook University in Australia and the lead author of a paper on the reef that is being published Thursday as the cover article of the journal Nature. “In the north, I saw hundreds of reefs — literally two-thirds of the reefs were dying and are now dead.”
The damage to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s largest living structures, is part of a global calamity that has been unfolding intermittently for nearly two decades and seems to be intensifying. In the paper, dozens of scientists described the recent disaster as the third worldwide mass bleaching of coral reefs since 1998, but by far the most widespread and damaging.

The state of coral reefs is a telling sign of the health of the seas. Their distress and death are yet another marker of the ravages of global climate change.
If most of the world’s coral reefs die, as scientists fear is increasingly likely, some of the richest and most colorful life in the ocean could be lost, along with huge sums from reef tourism. In poorer countries, lives are at stake: Hundreds of millions of people get their protein primarily from reef fish, and the loss of that food supply could become a humanitarian crisis.

Press link for more: New York Times

The Dance of Death #climatechange #neoliberalism #auspol 

The Dance of Death

By Chris Hedges

The ruling corporate elites no longer seek to build.

 They seek to destroy. 

They are agents of death. 

They crave the unimpeded power to cannibalize the country and pollute and degrade the ecosystem to feed an insatiable lust for wealth, power and hedonism. 

Wars and military “virtues” are celebrated.

 Intelligence, empathy and the common good are banished.

 Culture is degraded to patriotic kitsch.

 Education is designed only to instill technical proficiency to serve the poisonous engine of corporate capitalism. 

Historical amnesia shuts us off from the past, the present and the future.

 Those branded as unproductive or redundant are discarded and left to struggle in poverty or locked away in cages. 

State repression is indiscriminant and brutal.

 And, presiding over the tawdry Grand Guignol is a deranged ringmaster tweeting absurdities from the White House.

The graveyard of world empires—Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mayan, Khmer, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian—followed the same trajectory of moral and physical collapse.

 Those who rule at the end of empire are psychopaths, imbeciles, narcissists and deviants, the equivalents of the depraved Roman emperors Caligula, Nero, Tiberius and Commodus.

 The ecosystem that sustains the empire is degraded and exhausted. 

Economic growth, concentrated in the hands of corrupt elites, is dependent on a crippling debt peonage imposed on the population.

 The bloated ruling class of oligarchs, priests, courtiers, mandarins, eunuchs, professional warriors, financial speculators and corporate managers sucks the marrow out of society.
The elites’ myopic response to the looming collapse of the natural world and the civilization is to make subservient populations work harder for less, squander capital in grandiose projects such as pyramids, palaces, border walls and fracking, and wage war.

 President Trump’s decision to increase military spending by $54 billion and take the needed funds out of the flesh of domestic programs typifies the behavior of terminally ill civilizations. 

When the Roman Empire fell, it was trying to sustain an army of half a million soldiers that had become a parasitic drain on state resources.
“The death instinct, called Thanatos by post-Freudians, is driven by fear, hatred and violence.”
The complex bureaucratic mechanisms that are created by all civilizations ultimately doom them. 

The difference now, as Joseph Tainter points out in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” is that “collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. 

No longer can any individual nation collapse. 

World civilization will disintegrate as a whole.”
Civilizations in decline, despite the palpable signs of decay around them, remain fixated on restoring their “greatness.” 

Their illusions condemn them. 

They cannot see that the forces that gave rise to modern civilization, namely technology, industrial violence and fossil fuels, are the same forces that are extinguishing it.

 Their leaders are trained only to serve the system, slavishly worshipping the old gods long after these gods begin to demand millions of sacrificial victims.
“Hope drives us to invent new fixes for old messes, which in turn create even more dangerous messes,” Ronald Wright writes in “A Short History of Progress.” “Hope elects the politician with the biggest empty promise; and as any stockbroker or lottery seller knows, most of us will take a slim hope over prudent and predictable frugality. Hope, like greed, fuels the engine of capitalism.” 
The Trump appointees—Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson, Steve Mnuchin, Betsy DeVos, Wilbur Ross, Rick Perry, Alex Acosta and others—do not advocate innovation or reform. They are Pavlovian dogs that salivate before piles of money. They are hard-wired to steal from the poor and loot federal budgets. Their single-minded obsession with personal enrichment drives them to dismantle any institution or abolish any law or regulation that gets in the way of their greed. Capitalism, Karl Marx wrote, is “a machine for demolishing limits.” There is no internal sense of proportion or scale. Once all external impediments are lifted, global capitalism ruthlessly commodifies human beings and the natural world to extract profit until exhaustion or collapse. And when the last moments of a civilization arrive, the degenerate edifices of power appear to crumble overnight.
Sigmund Freud wrote that societies, along with individuals, are driven by two primary instincts. One is the instinct for life, Eros, the quest to love, nurture, protect and preserve. The second is the death instinct. The death instinct, called Thanatos by post-Freudians, is driven by fear, hatred and violence.

 It seeks the dissolution of all living things, including our own beings. One of these two forces, Freud wrote, is always ascendant. Societies in decline enthusiastically embrace the death instinct, as Freud observed in “Civilization and Its Discontents,” written on the eve of the rise of European fascism and World War II. 
“It is in sadism, where the death instinct twists the erotic aim in its own sense and yet at the same time fully satisfies the erotic urge, that we succeed in obtaining the clearest insight into its nature and its relation to Eros,” Freud wrote. “But even where it emerges without any sexual purpose, in the blindest fury of destructiveness, we cannot fail to recognize that the satisfaction of the instinct is accompanied by an extraordinary high degree of narcissistic enjoyment, owing to its presenting the ego with a fulfillment of the latter’s old wishes for omnipotence.”
The lust for death, as Freud understood, is not, at first, morbid. It is exciting and seductive. I saw this in the wars I covered. A god-like power and adrenaline-driven fury, even euphoria, sweep over armed units and ethnic or religious groups given the license to destroy anything and anyone around them. Ernst Juenger captured this “monstrous desire for annihilation” in his World War I memoir, “Storm of Steel.”
A population alienated and beset by despair and hopelessness finds empowerment and pleasure in an orgy of annihilation that soon morphs into self-annihilation. It has no interest in nurturing a world that has betrayed it and thwarted its dreams. It seeks to eradicate this world and replace it with a mythical landscape. It turns against institutions, as well as ethnic and religious groups, that are scapegoated for its misery. It plunders diminishing natural resources with abandon. It is seduced by the fantastic promises of demagogues and the magical solutions characteristic of the Christian right or what anthropologists call “crisis cults.”
Norman Cohn, in “The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Messianism in Medieval and Reformation Europe and Its Bearing on Modern Totalitarian Movements,” draws a link between that turbulent period and our own. Millennial movements are a peculiar, collective psychological response to profound societal despair. They recur throughout human history. We are not immune.
“These movements have varied in tone from the most violent aggressiveness to the mildest pacifism and in aim from the most ethereal spirituality to the most earth-bound materialism; there is no counting the possible ways of imagining the Millennium and the route to it,” Cohen wrote. “But similarities can present themselves as well as differences; and the more carefully one compares the outbreaks of militant social chiliasm during the later Middle Ages with modern totalitarian movements the more remarkable the similarities appear. The old symbols and the old slogans have indeed disappeared, to be replaced by new ones; but the structure of the basic phantasies seems to have changed scarcely at all.”
These movements, Cohen wrote, offered “a coherent social myth which was capable of taking entire possession of those who believed in it. It explained their suffering, it promised them recompense, it held their anxieties at bay, it gave them an illusion of security—even while it drove them, held together by a common enthusiasm, on a quest which was always vain and often suicidal.
“So it came about that multitudes of people acted out with fierce energy a shared phantasy which though delusional yet brought them such intense emotional relief that they could live only through it and were perfectly willing to die for it. It is a phenomenon which was to recur many times between the eleventh century and the sixteenth century, now in one area, now in another, and which, despite the obvious differences in cultural context and in scale, is not irrelevant to the growth of totalitarian movements, with their messianic leaders, their millennial mirages and their demon-scapegoats, in the present century.”
The severance of a society from reality, as ours has been severed from collective recognition of the severity of climate change and the fatal consequences of empire and deindustrialization, leaves it without the intellectual and institutional mechanisms to confront its impending mortality. It exists in a state of self-induced hypnosis and self-delusion. It seeks momentary euphoria and meaning in tawdry entertainment and acts of violence and destruction, including against people who are demonized and blamed for society’s demise. It hastens its self-immolation while holding up the supposed inevitability of a glorious national resurgence. Idiots and charlatans, the handmaidens of death, lure us into the abyss.

Press link for more: commondreams.com

Economic cost of #climatechange are ‘massive’ #auspol #science 

Funding efforts to fight climate change is “a waste of your money,” the director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney said in a press conference today.
 But Mulvaney is dangerously wrong: in fact, experts say that that the economic costs of climate change are so massive that delayed action, or inaction, is the most expensive policy option out there.
Mulvaney was defending President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget, which cuts funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent — making good on Trump’s threat to dismantle the agency. 

“Regarding the question as to climate change, the president was fairly straightforward,” Mulvaney said.

 “‘We’re not spending money on that anymore.’”
That’s a really bad idea, for a couple of reasons. 

But first, let’s get this out of the way: there is overwhelming evidence that climate change is real, and caused by carbon emissions.

 Scientifically, the debate’s over and this is our fault — no matter how much Scott Pruitt or Ryan Zinke try to duck responsibility on behalf of humankind.
Sitting out on global warming is a bad deal for America

Second, there are big chunks of the US economy that depend on the global temperature staying put — like the agriculture and fish industries, for example. 

All told, the agriculture and food sectors account for more than $750 billion dollars of the United States’ gross domestic product, according to an EPA report.
Physicist William Happer loves to say that plants grow better when there are higher atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, but that’s only one part of the picture. 

Most plants also have specific temperature and moisture ranges. 

And as global temperatures climb, severe droughts, extreme rain and snowfall, flooding, and heatwaves have already started to increase — making it a lot harder to grow crops no matter how much they love guzzling down that CO2.
Unchecked climate change will hit farmers where it hurts
We’ve started seeing some of the consequences of climate change on agriculture already, according to a government report: high temperatures in 2011 cost meat producers more than $1 billion dollars in what the EPA called “heat-related losses.” 

Unseasonably warm evenings in 2012 caused Michigan’s cherry crop to bud too early, causing $220 million in damage. California’s record-setting drought, which was exacerbated by global warming, cost the state’s agriculture sector $603 million and 4,700 jobs between 2015 and 2016. Unchecked climate change will hit farmers where it hurts.
Let’s talk coastal property, too, since we know how much time President Trump spends at Mar-a-Lago. Florida’s in big trouble because of the sea level rise, a consequence of the warming planet. 

By 2050, between $15 billion and $23 billion of property will be underwater in the state.

 By the end of the 21st century, that could climb to between $53 billion and $208 billion, according to The Risky Business Project’s Climate Risk Assessment. 

And that’s just in Florida. 

Nationwide, The Risky Business Project estimates that anywhere from $66 billion to $106 billion of coastal real estate is probably going to hard to enjoy without a snorkel by the year 2100.
This is bad for more than just Mar-a-Lago: massive coastal flooding could also have major ripple effects on the economy, according to a report by government-sponsored mortgage company Freddie Mac. 

Coastal businesses could relocate or simply go under, taking jobs with them.

 Lenders and mortgage insurers could also suffer huge losses because, the report says, “It is less likely that borrowers will continue to make mortgage payments if their homes are literally underwater.”

 It gets worse: “Non-economic losses may be substantial as some communities disappear or unravel. Social unrest may increase in the affected areas.”
“It is less likely that borrowers will continue to make mortgage payments if their homes are literally underwater.”
Big picture, global warming could cause the global economy to plummet — leading to a 23 percent drop in gross domestic product per person by the year 2100, according to a 2015 study published in Nature.

 “We’re basically throwing away money by not addressing the issue,” Marshall Burke, an assistant professor at Stanford University, told TIME.
Even bankers agree — and they’re not known for being tree-huggers. A 2015 report published by Citigroup estimates that that climate change could cost the global economy between $2 trillion and $72 trillion between 2015 and 2060. Who else but a group of financial wonks could write something like this: “The cumulative losses to global GDP from climate change impacts (‘Inaction’) from 2015 to 2060 are estimated at $2 trillion to $72 trillion depending on the discount rate and scenario used. Lower discount rates encourage early action.”
Trump of all people should see how bad a deal it is

The Department of Defense not only acknowledges climate change, but warns that it could exacerbate “poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions that threaten stability in a number of countries.” ProPublica recently obtained an unpublished testimony by Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “Climate change can be a driver of instability and the Department of Defense must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon.”
One of the most frustrating parts of Mulvaney’s press conference is that he can just lob statements like fighting climate change is a “waste of money” out into the world — and people might believe it.

 But there are real experts out there, who spend time and money to collect data, analyze it, and publish their results before their conclusions might be somewhat accepted as something resembling fact.
Maybe politicians making claims about science they don’t understand should have to go through the scientific peer review process — even Reviewer 2 wouldn’t let Mulvaney get away with this kind of wild talk:

The most painful part?

 Even the world’s best efforts to combat climate change might not be good enough. 

But waiting to start fighting global warming — or sitting out the fight altogether — is a bad deal for America’s future. Given President Trump’s claims about his business acumen, he, of all people, should see that.

Press link for more: The Verge

Sea-level rise is a ‘serious threat’ #ClimateChange #auspol 

Sea-level rise poses ‘a serious threat’ to millions of Europeans, scientists warnA new study spells out the threat of sea-level rise in coastal communities.

The 1824 flooding for St. Petersburg, Russia. Once-a-century floods could become commonplace as the planet heats up. CREDIT: Public Domain
By Marlene Cimons

The kind of devastating flooding that occurs once every century along Europe’s northern coastline could become an annual event if greenhouse gas emissions continue to climb, according to a recent study published in the journal Earth’s Future.

New analysis takes into account changes in sea-level rise, tides, waves, and storm surge over the 21st century and found that climate change could prompt extreme sea levels — the maximum levels seen during major storms, which produce massive flooding — to increase significantly along the European coastline by 2100.

This scenario will likely stress coastal protection structures beyond their capacity, leaving much of the European coastline vulnerable to dangerous flooding, according to study authors.

“Unless we take different protection measures, five million people will be exposed to coastal flooding on an annual basis,” said Michalis Vousdoukas, a coastal oceanographer at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission and lead author of the study.

The study described the projected rise in extreme sea levels as “a serious threat” to coastal communities, noting, “their safety and resilience depends on the effectiveness of natural and man-made coastal flood protection.”

Kevin Trenberth, a scientist with the climate analysis section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who was not involved in this research, said the signs of extreme sea levels are already worrisome, not just in Europe, but in the United States as well. “Witness the sunshine flooding in Florida already, the flooding that shows up even with no storm on many streets any time there is a slightly high tide,” he said.

A Florida road flooded by tropical storm Arlene in 2005. Florida is especially susceptible to rising seas. Source: FEMA

“Sea level is going up because the ocean is warming and hence expanding, and because land ice — glaciers, etc. — are melting and putting more water into the ocean. But it is not the gradual rise that matters,” Trenberth said. “Rather, it is the storm surge on top of a high tide riding on top of the increase in sea level that crosses thresholds and causes things to break.”

Richard Alley, professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University, who also did not take part in this study, noted that the study didn’t consider the possible collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet. “If that happens, then sea-level rise and impacts to coasts could be much higher than in this paper,” Alley said. “Rapid West Antarctic collapse could cause enough rise to make many of these other factors of secondary importance. So, the ‘worst case’ in this paper isn’t really the worst case.”

The new paper predicted that some regions could experience an even higher increase in the frequency of these extreme flooding events, specifically along the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, where the present day 100-year extreme sea level could occur as often as several times a year.

“The ‘worst case’ in this paper isn’t really the worst case.”

Information about the number of people at risk from flooding can be used to determine how large the social and economic impact of these events will be, said Marta Marcos, a researcher at the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies in Spain, who was not involved in the new study. “In terms of adaptation strategies and policy-making, it is very relevant,” she said.

The researchers studied changes in extreme sea levels by 2100 under different greenhouse gas scenarios and considered how all these components — mean sea level, tides, waves, and storm surge — will be affected by climate change.

The Netherlands is particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise. Source: Pexels

If emissions continue to rise unabated throughout this century, extreme sea levels along Europe’s coastlines could increase by more than 2.5 feet, on average, by 2100. Under a more moderate situation, where greenhouse gas emissions peak in 2040, 100-year extreme sea levels still could jump by nearly 2 feet, on average, by the end of the century — with flooding events occurring every few years — according to study’s authors.

In a related study appearing in Geophysical Research Letters, scientists found that if greenhouse gases continue to rise, there could be disturbing changes by the end of the century in the energy that waves carry to the coast.

In the southern hemisphere, extreme waves could carry up to 30 percent more energy by 2100, according to the study, meaning that stronger waves will become more frequent, and have a greater impact on the coast, said Lorenzo Mentaschi, a researcher at the Joint Research Centre and lead author of the study.

The new study attributed the changes in wave energy to the intensification of weather patterns, like El Niño. The new research will be provided to European Union policymakers. The data will also be made public so it can be used by scientists, engineers, and coastal managers.

Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University, said the research once again underscored how climate change, “which has already increased the threat to our coastlines through a combination of sea-level rise and intensified coastal storms, will be catastrophic for coastal communities if we don’t reduce global carbon emissions.”

Marlene Cimons writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art & culture.

Press link for more: Think Progress

Health & #Climatechange : An Urgent Need For Action #science 

Health And Climate Change: An Urgent Need For Action


The human face of climate change is its impact on our health. 

Higher temperatures intensify air pollution and respiratory illness. 

Changing weather patterns lead to drought and then famine, while increasing rains in other areas will create the breeding ground for disease and pandemics. 

While the policy changes needed to blunt climate change are surely substantial, the cost of ignoring the science behind climate change will be felt through its harmful effects on our health. 


Recently, the CDC cancelled its Climate and Health Summit out of fear of retribution from the Trump administration.

 Working with Al Gore and others, Harvard worked to revive the meeting, which was held in Atlanta on February 16.

 This meeting reminded us that universities have a unique responsibility that we ensure a platform for key scientific issues that have a meaningful effect on people’s health. 

 Climate change is one such critical issue.


A century ago, one in three children died before age five. 

That number has been cut by 90 percent because of global investments in public health. 

Climate change, unchecked, puts these gains, and lives, at risk. 

Weather shifts from climate change will change the availability and reduce the nutritional content of food.


 The levels of protein and crucial micronutrients in key staple crops will drop, exposing billions of the world’s poorest people to worsening malnutrition. 

The gains we have made in saving the lives of children are fragile – and unlikely to withstand the challenges created by climate change unless we act now.


The effects of climate change on health will not stop with agriculture. 

Burning fossil fuels release a wide array of air pollutants that are a leading cause of asthma, heart disease, and strokes in our country and around the globe. 

Children are particularly vulnerable, and so are the elderly. 

The increasing number of heat waves is dangerous, but the interaction between high temperatures and air pollution becomes especially deadly.


The changing climate will likely shift the geographical range of insects that carry disease, including ticks carrying Lyme disease and mosquitos which carry malaria. 

The increasing number of infectious disease outbreaks such as Ebola and Zika appear to be linked, at least in part, to ongoing environmental shifts that exacerbate climate change. 

It is not hard to imagine that if we alter an ecosystem where we and other species live in equilibrium, there will be meaningful consequences.
Transitioning to energy sources that reduce carbon pollution will help the U.S. meet its commitments under the recent Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, importantly, will also benefit the health of all Americans. 

In a nation where our government already pays for the health care of our elderly and many of our children, reducing health burdens not only saves lives, but it can also be fiscally responsible. 

Our colleagues at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recently found that the health savings to the American people from the Environmental Protection Agency’s new carbon standards will far outweigh the cost to industry within five years.
As these changes unfold, universities have a unique obligation, through research, education, and better communication, to understand and explain the impact of climate change on health and find ways to mitigate it. 

This research, at Harvard and at universities across our country, is dependent on a long-standing agreement between universities and the American people: universities will work on the most pressing issues facing our nation, and our citizens, through their government, will support that research.

 That agreement faces a serious challenge today from politicians skeptical about the science of climate change and the value of scientific investment. 


Yet it is more important than ever to renew our commitment to funding research on climate change and especially, its impact on health. 

Universities must commit to producing unbiased, high-quality data to guide decision- and policy-making, and the government should keep its commitment to supporting that work. 
Finally, it is essential that universities engage more effectively with the public regarding what the science tells us about the impact of climate change on health. Sharing data openly and transparently is crucial to helping policy-makers reach / agree on the best decisions.
This is a critical moment for our nation. 

Climate change is upon us. 

We can no longer think of it as an issue of temperature changes or sea level rises alone. 

We must remember that we will feel the effects of climate change most acutely on our health.

 We still have the time to mitigate these effects by focusing on reducing carbon pollution and slowing the warming of the planet.

 If we do, we will reap the benefits in terms of longer and healthier lives. 

 And our children will be the biggest beneficiaries.

Press link for more: Huffington Post

‘Dying one by one’ #auspol #ClimateChange Ignored. 

‘Dying one by one:’ Somalia drought crushes herders’ lives

‘Dying one by one:’ Somalia drought crushes herders’ lives

BANDAR BEYLA, Somalia (AP) — Ahmed Haji turns from his visibly dehydrated animals and whispers: “I am lost.”
Trying to flee the worsening drought, he trekked thousands of kilometers with a herd that once numbered 1,200. But hundreds perished during the arduous trip to Puntland, in northern Somalia, in search of greener pasture.
The land here dried up not long after he arrived, leaving his animals weak from hunger and thirst. “They are now dying one by one,” the 30-year-old said, shading his face from the scorching sun. His goats drank water from a plastic barrel and picked dry leaves from plants nearby.
“I don’t even think these remaining ones will survive in the next two months,” Haji said. He left his wife and five children behind on his eight-day trek, fearing they wouldn’t survive. Now he wonders about himself.
Somalia has declared this drought a national disaster, part of what the United Nations calls the largest humanitarian crisis since the world body was founded in 1945.
An estimated 6 million people in this Horn of Africa nation, or about half the population, need aid amid warnings of a full-blown famine. Two consecutive seasons of poor rainfall, longer in some areas, have caused large-scale crop failures, the U.N. humanitarian agency says.
It is not clear how many people, or animals, have died so far.
Animals are central to many in Somalia. The United Nations says more than half the population is engaged in the livestock industry. The drought threatens their main sources of nutrition and survival.
Many wells have dried up, forcing herders to risk long treks to remote areas. Water prices have spiked, with a single water tanker now going for $150.
The hot wind blows across the vast, barren land and carcasses of animals.
“The sad reality of the drought this severe, this long, this enduring is we’re starting to see these massive livestock deaths, livestock losses. Fifty, 60, 70 percent of livestock herds dying, which is an enormous hit for these pastoral families,” said Richard Trenchard, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization representative in Somalia.
The mass animal deaths, from hunger and thirst as well as disease, have caused herders to lose “just about everything,” Trenchard said, standing beside the carcass of a camel.
Even though rains are expected in mid-April, there are fears that effects of a heavy downpour could kill already weakened animals.
With their livestock gone, herders are ending up in camps with shortages of food, medicine and safe drinking water.
“Our journey here was so rough. There was no transport or water. We left behind everything. We are here now and we don’t have any proper shelter or transport,” said Dahiya Ahmed, a 48-year-old mother of eight at a camp in Qardho town.
She once herded 200 goats but now has just six. “The few of them that are still alive are too weak and cannot provide us with milk and meat,” she said. “They are just still alive but cannot benefit us at all.”
With the rise of disease-related deaths among the remaining animals, the United Nations is planning a major animal vaccination intervention. Some herders are being given basic training on vaccinating their animals and giving oral medications on their own.
“Hungry animals, starving animals are very vulnerable, very prone to disease,” Trenchard said.
Around two million animals are targeted for treatment against parasites, infectious disease and wounds, said Khalid Saeed, the FAO livestock sector coordinator, as he gave medicine to sick and weakened animals.
Somalia is part of a massive $4 billion aid appeal launched last month for four nations suffering from conflict and hunger. The others are Nigeria, Yemen and South Sudan, where famine already has been declared in two counties.

Press link for more: Yahoo.com

Why Trump is an Existential Threat #auspol #climatechange #science

One of the Most Famous Scientists in the World Just Explained Why Trump Is an Existential Threat

SochAnam/Getty Images
This story was originally published by New Republic and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
Earlier this month, thousands of scientists from around the world came together for their favorite nerd fest:

 The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest scientific organization and publisher of the renowned Science journals.

 There were panels on everything from climate change to robots, hornless cows to honeybees.

 But this year’s meeting was different than any other in its 168-year history, for one reason: Donald Trump was president. And scientists were freaking out.


“I haven’t seen anything like it in my many decades in science and science watching,” Dr. Rush Holt, the president of AAAS and executive publisher of the Science journals, told the New Republic.
Most scientists are uncomfortable talking politics because their work needs to be perceived as objective rather than partisan. But ever since America elected a president who’s made scientifically inaccurate statements on everything from vaccines to climate change, more and more scientists are stepping into the spotlight to stand up for their profession. That includes Holt, who announced Wednesday that AAAS would partner with the March for Science, an Earth Day rally with the primary goal of preserving and promoting evidence-based policymaking.
In a conversation with the New Republic, Holt—who is also a former U.S. Congressman—talked about the unprecedented level of political anxiety among American scientists, and how those scientists should navigate these murky waters.

TNR: We’ve reached this point where scientists are being thrown into the political spotlight, which I imagine is deeply uncomfortable for a lot of people in this profession. You just came from your annual conference, where thousands of scientists in attendance. What is the level of concern you observed from them about the Trump administration, and politics in general?
“The level of concern and anxiety among scientists—and I guess I’d say the science-friendly public—about the place of science in society in government, has gone beyond concern to anxiety.”
RH: The level of concern and anxiety among scientists—and I guess I’d say the science-friendly public—about the place of science in society in government, has gone beyond concern to anxiety. I haven’t seen anything like it in my many decades in science and science watching.
It used to be when that, when scientists in the hallways would talk about being worried about the state of science, what they really meant was, they were worried about the funding for their research. That’s not so much what we’re hearing now, although I do think scientists don’t realize what Congress seems to have in store for non-defense discretionary spending.
TNR: So you’re saying the concern among scientists has gone from, “will I get funding,” to something more existential.
RH: Existential might even be the right word. The concern now is whether policymakers even understand the meaning of evidence. Whether there is any truth to this descriptor of “fact-free era.” Whether policy is going to be made more and more in the absence of scientific input. There seems to be a concern about whether the public appreciation of science has eroded to a point where it has removed science from public debate and public decision making. Whether the public has come to regard evidence as optional.

TNR: You’ve only been at the head of AAAS some 2014, but compared to other years, was there a lot of political talk at this year’s annual meetings?
RH: That was the main hallways discussion, as well as discussion that broke out in panels on various scientific topics. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve also never seen as much of a spontaneous upsurge now of scientists and science-loving members of the public who want to defend science. We see that in the March for Science.
TNR: Regarding the march, though, some people have expressed concern that it’s going to politicize science even further. That it’s going to make science into a partisan issue.
RH: Well, the March for Science is not just a march. It’s a public education effort. It is a children’s science festival. It is emblematic of this public upsurge of interest in defending the idea of science. That’s really unusual. It’s also a rare opportunity for scientists to help get out the message of just how valuable, how powerful science is and how important it is—how it’s more important to lives of nonscientists than to the job of scientists.
TNR: So you don’t think that a march that will likely have politically-oriented signs will undermine science?
RH: There is a sense that science and politics are incompatible. I don’t think so at all. I think it’s important that scientists take great pains to make sure that ideology and personal bias and wishful thinking do not contaminate the collection and analysis and evidence. One must not politicize science. But the converse is not necessarily true. There’s no reason why scientists can not go into the public sphere. In fact, I would argue they should.
TNR: Does that mean you think more scientists should be running for political office?
RH: It doesn’t necessarily mean running for office. Every citizen, scientists included, has some obligation to be involved in public affairs and politics. I do think that in recent months I’ve seen a lot more public-directed attention from scientists. More and more scientists have called me up—strangers for the most part—who say, “I’m thinking about running for office. You’ve done it, how do you do it.” And I say, “just do it.”
TNR: Do you think all this concern is just because of Trump?
RH: Actually, the concerns that I heard raised at the annual meeting seemed to be rooted in trends that began years ago, quite independent of Donald Trump. It is true that when people are appointed to positions and talk without any appreciation or understanding of scientists, well, that gets scientists worried. And when public officials talk about alternative facts, people who have devoted their careers to trying to uncover facts are dismayed. But this type of rhetoric has been present in politics for some time.
TNR: Where do you think the conversation about science in policymaking needs to go from here? What needs to be done to communicate the stakes of an anti-science government?
RH: So much of this discussion in recent weeks and months has not been about specific issues, but about the place of science and science-based evidence in general. The phrase I hear most—more often than genetic engineering or nuclear power or anything like that—is “evidence-based decision-making.” I hear that phrase over and over.
There needs to be a public dawning—and it is beginning to dawn on some members of the public—that how science is practiced actually makes a difference in their lives. If evidence becomes optional, if ideological assertions or beliefs are just as good as scientifically vetted evidence, then their quality of life suffers. I think that’s dawning on people. There’s a level of concern unlike anything I’ve seen.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

Press link for more: motherjones.com

Climate Change impact irreversible #auspol #wapol 

Climate change impact on Australia may be irreversible, five-yearly report says

The Tarkine wilderness area in Tasmania

An independent review of the state of Australia’s environment has found the impacts of climate change are increasing and some of the changes could be irreversible.
The latest State of the Environment report, a scientific snapshot across nine areas released by the federal government every five years, says climate change is altering the structure and function of natural ecosystems in Australia, and is affecting heritage, economic activity and human wellbeing.
It warns climate change will result in “location specific vulnerabilities” and says the most severe impacts will be felt by people who are socially and economically disadvantaged.
Record high water temperatures caused “widespread coral bleaching, habitat destruction and species mortality” in the marine environment between 2011 and 2016, it says.

The minister for energy and the environment, Josh Frydenberg, was due to release the report card on Tuesday morning.
In a column for Guardian Australia, Frydenberg says the report indicates the impact of changing weather patterns is being felt in the ocean, on the Great Barrier Reef and on land, affecting biodiversity and species habitat.
“While carbon emissions per capita have declined from 24.1 tonnes in 2011 to 22.2 tonnes in 2015 and energy efficiency improvements are reducing electricity demand, the report makes clear that, for the world to meet its Paris goals, there is much more to do,” Frydenberg says.


The minister says the report makes clear Australia needs to prepare for changes in the environment and “put in place a coordinated, comprehensive, well-resourced, long-term response”.
He warns that failure to do so “will have a direct and detrimental impact on our quality of life and leave a legacy to future generations that is inferior to the one we have inherited”.
The minister says the report presents the government with a mixed picture. “Good progress has been made in the management of the marine and Antarctic environments, natural and cultural heritage and the built environment – while pressures are building in relation to invasive species, climate change, land use and coastal protection,” he says.
Frydenberg says the doubling of Australia’s population in the past 50 years and growing urbanisation “have all combined to contribute to additional pressures on the environment”.
Australia’s heavily populated coastal areas are under pressure, as are “growth areas within urban environments, where human pressure is greatest”, the report finds.
Grazing and invasive species continue to pose a significant threat to biodiversity.
“The main pressures facing the Australian environment today are the same as in 2011: climate change, land use change, habitat fragmentation and degradation, and invasive species,” the report’s summary says. “In addition, the interactions between these and other pressures are resulting in cumulative impacts, amplifying the threats faced by the Australian environment.
“Evidence shows that some individual pressures on the environment have decreased since 2011, such as those associated with air quality, poor agricultural practices, commercial fishing, and oil and gas exploration and production in Australia’s marine environment.
“During the same time, however, other pressures have increased — for example, those associated with coal mining and the coal-seam gas industry, habitat fragmentation and degradation, invasive species, litter in our coastal and marine environments, and greater traffic volumes in our capital cities.”

The report criticises the lack of “an overarching national policy that establishes a clear vision for the protection and sustainable management of Australia’s environment to the year 2050”.
It points to poor collaboration, gaps in knowledge, data and monitoring and a lack of follow-though from policy to action.
“Providing for a sustainable environment both now and in the future is a national issue requiring leadership and action across all levels of government, business and the community,” it says. “The first step is recognising the importance and value of ecosystem services to our economy and society.
“Addressing Australia’s long-term, systemic environmental challenges requires, among other things, the development of a suite of stronger, more comprehensive and cohesive policies focused on protecting and maintaining natural capital, and ongoing improvements to current management arrangements.”
Late last year, the government established a review of its Direct Action climate policy. The current policy has been widely criticised by experts as inadequate if Australia is to meet its international emissions reduction targets under the Paris climate change agreement.
Shortly after establishing the review, Frydenberg ruled out converting the Direct Action scheme to a form of carbon trading after a brief internal revolt. Many experts argue carbon trading would allow Australia to reduce emissions consistent with Paris commitments at least cost to households and businesses.
The Direct Action review still allows for the consideration of the potential role of international carbon credits in meeting Australia’s emissions reduction targets – a practice Tony Abbott comprehensively ruled out as prime minister – and consideration of a post-2030 emissions reduction goal for Australia.
The review also requires an examination of international developments in climate change policy, which is code for an assessment of what is happening on global climate action in the event the US pulls out of the Paris climate agreement.
The New York Times reported last week that the White House was fiercely divided over Trump’s campaign promise to cancel the Paris agreement.
Its report said Trump’s senior strategist Steve Bannon wanted the US to pull out of the Paris agreement but Bannon’s stance was being resisted by the new secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who are concerned about the diplomatic fallout.
The Turnbull government has already indicated that it intends to stay the course with the Paris agreement, and has argued it would take the US four years to withdraw from the deal under the terms of ratification.
But if the US withdraws from Paris, internal pressure inside the Coalition will intensify, and the prime minister will face calls from some conservatives to follow suit.
In his column for Guardian Australia, Frydenberg says the Coalition is doing good work on the environment and the conservative parties in Australia have been responsible for establishing legislation such as the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, and programs such as the Natural Heritage Trust and the first mandatory Renewable Energy Target.
“The task now is to build on this proud Coalition tradition and to use this report to continue the good work the Turnbull government is already doing across so many areas of environmental policy,” he says.

Press link for more: The Guardian

Connecting with Climate Science #auspol

Connecting with climate science
Protecting science-based policymaking requires engaging the public, not politicians. 

Cultural institutions and the arts provide non-partisan platforms for communication that can connect scientific climate change data to people’s lives.
A rapid stream of policy changes and an unprecedented public reaction marked the first weeks of the Trump presidency.

 In response to signs from the Trump administration that they plan to muzzle government researchers, cut grant funding, and reverse science-based policies, a March for Science is being organized for Earth Day (22 April 2017) in Washington DC and around the world (http://go.nature.com/2kOWpXm). 


However, there are concerns that a March for Science will only reinforce the view held by sceptics that the research itself is politicized.

 Writing in The New York Times, coastal geologist Robert Young argued that to effect change, scientists need to work harder to communicate with the general public, not politicians, about the scientific evidence and how it relates to people’s lives. 

“We need storytellers, not marchers.”
Incorporating climate change into cultural experiences can engage the public and change the conversation. 

In this issue’s Feature (page 168), Sonja van Renssen explores the myriad ways the arts are being used to communicate the oftentimes-abstract impacts of climate change and the underlying scientific data. 

For instance, photorealistic depictions of iconic coastal cities under 2 °C and 4 °C warming scenarios provoke stronger emotional responses than simply knowing that sea level rise could be between 7–10 metres; films that allow viewers to actually see a city’s daily carbon emissions (pictured) and musical compositions based on climate data4, 5may better capture aspects of the data’s meaning that are not easily “grasped from a static scientific graph, like very large quantities or changes over time. These artistic renderings bridge the gap between knowing the facts and understanding them.

CARBON VISUALS, WWW.CARBONVISUALS.COM

As museum advisor Morien Rees writes in a Commentary (page 166), “how and where communication is achieved is as important as what is communicated”. He argues that museums are ideal venues to address the challenges of climate change communication because of their unique ability to foster dialogue across disciplines, making complex global issues locally relevant. 

For instance, his own museum in Norway is working with climate researchers and national park rangers to create an exhibit within the Varanger Peninsula National Park (http://go.nature.com/2lPpY8P) to highlight the impact of climate change on park wildlife. 

In a similar vein, the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg, Canada, has an award-winning exhibit (http://go.nature.com/2ksDwG0) that integrates virtual reality and video simulation technology and pure water science to draw attention to the problems facing Lake Winnipeg due to climate change and the actions required to save it.
Climate change is often presented as an issue for scientists and policymakers, which can make it easy for the public to remain disconnected.

 Both van Renseen and Rees discuss ways in which cultural experiences of climate change can complement major international policy and scientific events to turn passive observers into active participants. 

For example, van Renssen highlights ArtCop21, a global climate art festival that included 551 cultural events and exhibits across 54 countries in the four months preceding the 2015 UN climate conference. 

These musical, literary, theatrical, and visual arts events connected people to the climate problem and the importance of the Paris meeting. Rees proposes that a similar international event should accompany publication of the next IPCC report. Rather than passively learning about the contents from traditional news media, the public could be provided with opportunities to actively engage with the report content through a coordinated global dissemination project designed and executed by the international museum sector.

Indeed, the museum sector already has a cooperative international infrastructure in place that can be mobilized to this end.
The communication divide between scientists and the public, and the influence of political ideology on perceptions of science, is not limited to research topics like climate change that are themselves politically polarizing. For example, a 2016 poll conducted by Research!America (http://go.nature.com/2kpbyQr) found that 81% of respondents could not name a living scientist. #actuallivingscientist subsequently went viral on 3 February 2017 and was used by scientists to explain who they are and what they do in 140 characters

While it seemed to respond to the problem of people lacking awareness of scientists, it is not clear that this has done more than unite the scientific community — people who do not know a living scientist are unlikely to be following one on social media. This falls short of the personal public engagement that Robert Young envisions, and does little to overcome the perception that climate change is a partisan issue. Museums and galleries provide impartial platforms to disseminate climate and science messages beyond the echo chamber, but scientists can contribute by thinking about new ways to make their data accessible and personally meaningful.

Press link for more:Nature.com

The Crazy Climate Technofix #auspol 

by Mark White
Illustrations by Bren Luke 
Earth’s climate has been edging towards a scene usually reserved for a post-apocalyptic movie.

 Some posit geoengineering as a radical fix to climate change.

 Others say the risks are too high and its proponents mad. 

Welcome to the debate where science fiction meets climate science.

If you visit a block of land near the West Australian dairy town of Harvey in a few years’ time, you will see a few pipes sticking out of the ground, a solar panel and an aerial for communications devices. 

There may be a hut and some room for parking.
These will be the only visible signs of the South West Hub project, designed to test the feasibility of pumping megatonnes of carbon dioxide into the vast Wonnerup sandstone layer, a kilometre-and-a-half deep beneath the Jarrah-Marri trees on the surface.
The gas will be liquefied in a nearby compressor building – an anonymous farm shed – and transported to the injection site via underground pipes.
Wonnerup is an example of carbon capture and storage, one of a suite of technologies known as geoengineering, or climate engineering.
Geoengineering is a mixed bag, but the idea involves large-scale interventions at the level of the whole planet, with the goal of fixing the climate.

 It’s tricky, dangerous, and largely considered “fringe science”.
The proposals come in two main flavours. 

One is carbon dioxide removal, which strips the gas from the atmosphere and slowly restores atmospheric balance.

 A mix of techniques would be needed: hundreds of factories like Wonnerup, billions of new trees and plants, plus contentious technologies such as artificially encouraging the growth of plankton.
The second is solar radiation management, intended to cool the Earth by stopping the sun’s heat from reaching the planet’s surface. 

That can be achieved by pumping minute particles into the atmosphere, but carries the risk of killing billions of people.
Right now, we don’t have the tools or the knowledge to deploy these fixes. 

But some prominent climate scientists argue that as carbon emissions continue to rise, geoengineering will have to be employed to avoid catastrophic climate change.
 

Last December’s meeting of world leaders in Paris produced a voluntary agreement to try to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5C over pre-industrial levels, and to not exceed 2C – the widely agreed level of devastating heat increase.

 But agreement and actual efforts didn’t seem to go hand in hand.

“The roar of devastating global storms has now drowned the false cheer from Paris,” a team of 11 climate scientists wrote in a January letter to The Independent, “and brutally brought into focus the extent of our failure to address climate change. 

The unfortunate truth is that things are going to get much worse.”
University of Cambridge Professor Peter Wadhams says: “Other things being equal, I’m not a great fan of geoengineering, but I think it absolutely necessary given the situation we’re in. 

It’s a sticking plaster solution. 

But you need it, because looking at the world, nobody’s instantly changing their pattern of life.”
Since then, temperatures have been soaring month after month, we’ve learned that the Great Barrier Reef is in extremely poor health and bleaching rapidly, while new quests continue to unearth more fossil fuels.
As we’re failing to keep the planet pleasant and habitable for future generations, could we instead fix the climate with technology? 
With geoengineering?
Debate about geoengineering in Australia is “almost being avoided”, according to Professor David Karoly, a noted atmospheric scientist at the University of Melbourne.

 He is a member of the Climate Change Authority, which advises the federal government, and was involved in preparing the 2007 IPCC report on global warming.
“There’s very little discussion on it in terms of government circles, there’s very little research on it, there’s very little discussion of it in what might be called mainstream science,” Professor Karoly says.

Policymakers are including geoengineering in their plans, but many technologies are still unproven and potentially dangerous.
“You’ll generally find among climate scientists that almost all are opposed to geoengineering,” says Professor Jim Falk, of the University of Melbourne’s Sustainable Society Institute. 

“They’re already pretty concerned about what we’ve done to the climate and don’t want to start stuffing around doing other things we only half-understand on a grand scale.”
When the US National Academy of Science launched a report last year analysing geoengineering options, committee head Marcia McNutt, a geophysicist, was asked if any should be deployed. 

She replied “Gosh, I hope not”.
The report considered carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management so risky it used the term “climate intervention” instead of geoengineering, arguing the term “engineering” implied a level of control that doesn’t exist.
But the IPCC has considered scenarios where such engineering would be necessary: its 2014 assessment report mentions bio-energy carbon capture and storage (known as BECCS), where plant fuel is burned and the resulting carbon dioxide buried.
And the Paris Agreement noted there would be need for a “balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases” in 2050-2100.
“A few years ago, these exotic Dr Strangelove options were discussed only as last-ditch contingencies,” wrote Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, of the Paris talks in Nature magazine.
“Now they are Plan A.”
 

The term “geoengineering” raises the spectre of a James Bond villain cackling in his lair and planning to make volcanoes erupt at the push of a button. And that’s quite fitting, given that one approach to solar radiation management consists of mimicking the fallout from such giant explosions.
Treating the problem like an outlandish movie script may be the only way of comprehending the scale of the challenge. To reduce atmospheric CO2 levels by 1ppm – approaching the volume needed to stabilise global temperature – requires the withdrawal of 18 gigatonnes of gas, the equivalent of 18,000 South West Hub plants running for a year.
Tim Flannery, the former Australian of the Year who helped raise the profile of climate change, is vocal in supporting some geoengineering approaches. He prefers the less-toxic term “Third Way technologies”, based on the Earth’s natural processes.
Flannery says those which work at the gigatonne scale – the only ones which will dent the problem – may take decades to be developed.
“The only way you can get to a Paris-like outcome is by slamming hard on emissions,” he says, “reducing them as fast as humanly possible as well as investing now in these technologies that’ll give you these gigatonne gains in 20 or 30 years time.”
”The question for most of these technologies is – we don’t know if they work. But we need them to work.”
Flannery says solar-radiation management approaches should be treated with great caution, as they mask the problem: they will reduce the temperature, but not affect rising CO2 levels, leaving the oceans ever more acidic. That could see a catastrophic loss of reefs and oceanic life, devastating the aquatic food chain.
Ironically, one of the reasons the atmosphere isn’t already at a 2C warming mark, says Professor Karoly, is due to the aerosols already in the atmosphere – an unintentional form of solar radiation management.
He says the current best estimate of stabilising the temperature at that level, with a 50 per cent likelihood, is for a carbon equivalent reading of 420-480ppm. The current figure is 481ppm, and rising at 3ppm per year.
Solar radiation management – deliberate and large scale – might buy time in an emergency, says Flannery. “There’s a broad highway to hell that’s easy to go down and it’s really cheap, relatively. It’s instantly effective, nations can do it unilaterally and it gives you a lower temperature.
“But there’s a narrow, crooked, winding path to heaven which is the carbon reduction stuff. It’s at a very early stage, but that actually does solve the problem.”

Once we capture carbon, it can actually be used productively. American researchers have produced carbon nanofibres from atmospheric carbon dioxide – initially only 10g per hour, but they are convinced it could scale.
There could be vast baths of molten chemicals across large swathes of the Sahara Desert, powered by solar radiation, forming layers of a valuable building material on submerged electrodes.
A research project at a California university has gone further, manufacturing a building material dubbed CO2NCRETE from captured carbon dioxide. A pilot plant at Australia’s University of Newcastle is investigating whether a similar process, combining excess CO2 from an Orica plant with minerals to form building materials, has commercial potential.
Flannery is interested in desktop studies on carbon-sucking seaweed and algae, as well as research reporting that carbon dioxide can be made to fall as snow over the Antarctic.

Picture this: the temperature plummeting well below freezing until a blizzard of dry ice cascades onto the barren plains below, each cuboctahedral flake representing a miniscule improvement in carbon levels, to be stored safely – somehow – from warming into a gas and re-entering the air.
“We’re at very, very early days,” Flannery warns. “Various approaches have different favourable aspects to them, but I don’t think any of them are anything like a silver bullet.”
Flannery’s championing of unorthodox technologies – even as avenues for research – isn’t shared by many high-profile climate change campaigners. David Karoly calls Flannery’s interest “surprising”. He deems ideas such as dry ice snowfall in Antarctica as “rather technofix solutions”.
“How do you get sufficient CO2 out of the atmosphere and store it?” asks Professor Karoly. “It’s probably the most inhospitable environment in the world and he’s talking about – if you work out what this equates to, it’s a mountain higher than Everest, the size of a soccer field every year.”
The Paris target of a 1.5C rise is “virtually impossible” without new technologies, he says, which “have not been proved either commercially viable or without major harm”.
“My concern is, the cure might be substantially worse than the disease.”
Clive Hamilton, professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University, who wrote about geoengineering in his 2013 book Earthmasters, is more blunt.
“The schemes [Flannery] proposes are real pie-in-the-sky stuff, way out there,” he says. “He seems to have been sucked in by a kind of strange techno-promise that’ll get us out of this.”

Australian geoengineering research lags far behind the world leaders in the US, UK and Germany. It’s limited to a handful of scientists in Sydney and Hobart, and our major achievement is helping to halt commercial oceanic geoengineering.
The federal government, via its Direct Action policy, focuses on carbon sequestration without the crazy technofix label. Instead it backs land-use practices such as planting new forests, and prioritises soil enhancement, mangrove protection and rainforest recovery.
“There was an enormous groundswell of support for these activities in Paris,” a spokesperson for the Department of the Environment says. “Other actions [in the geoengineering field] would have an enormously high safety bar to cross and are a long way from proof.”
Meanwhile, CSIRO looks set to embark on an expansion of its geoengineering research program, both at land and sea. In a recent memo to staff announcing 350 job cuts at the organisation, CSIRO head Larry Marshall nominated “climate interventions (geo-engineering)” as one area in which it would seek a “step change” in knowledge.
“CSIRO is currently working through the detail of our future climate adaptation and mitigation research, and will include research relevant aspects of onshore and offshore geo-engineering. The scale and scope of this research is still to be determined,” a CSIRO spokesperson told SBS.

 
Jim Falk categorises geoengineering proposals along various lines, including how big a project needs to be for credible deployment, how big an impact it would have, whether it is reversible, what governance is required, how much it would cost, and the risks involved.
“Then you can say different proposals have different footprints,” Falk says, “and depending on the footprint you can suggest what sort of barriers you would want for their regulations before you would allow an experiment to take place.”
Unlike attempts to reduce global carbon emissions – where everyone must do their part for action to be effective – what scares scientists about solar radiation management is the relative ease of one person launching a planet-wide experiment.
Spraying sulphate particles into the atmosphere from aircraft or balloons is known to reduce temperatures. It mimics what happens when volcanic ash blankets the atmosphere.
There would be spectacular sunsets as solar rays interact with the particles, with brilliant red eddies splashing the evening sky, similar to those in Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream.
And it has been costed at just $US10 billion a year.
One test in August 2008 was conducted on land 500km southeast of Moscow by Yuri Izrael, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s science advisor. He and his team rigged aerosol sprays on a helicopter and car chassis, measuring how solar radiation was retarded at heights up to 200 metres.
“China might decide to pump a load of sulphur into the atmosphere and not tell anyone about it,” says Rosemary Rayfuse, a Law professor at UNSW and a global authority on regulating geoengineering. “Or Australia could do it. Anybody could. That’s the other problem – it’s so easy to do.”
Billionaires Bill Gates and Richard Branson could step forward, says Anita Talberg, a PhD student in the governance of climate engineering at the University of Melbourne. Both support geoengineering and have funded research.
“They could just decide suddenly, ‘I could do enough benefit for the poor and vulnerable in the world, I could just do it and save them from the climate crisis.’”
Such a move could be catastrophic, most immediately due to the risk of drought in the tropics, devastating the food security of billions of people. Those colourful sunsets are projected to see lower rainfall.
The sky will bleach white during the day, while ozone depletes in the tropics – where most of the world’s population live. As the temperature falls, levels of UV radiation will rise, leading to an upsurge in skin cancers.

Professor Andy Pitman, of the Climate Change Research Centre in Sydney, is a member of the World Climate Research Program.
The only role he sees for sulphate injection is alongside steep cuts in carbon emissions. “If people are talking about it as a substitute for that, the technical term you’d use is ‘cloud cuckoo land’.”
But he hopes it’s never necessary.
“God, I hope not. We have a well-studied problem called global warming – we’re not sure of every detail – that would breach every ethics experiment on the planet if you proposed it as an experiment.
“All those problems relate to solar radiation management and I’d suggest any country that tried it at any significant level would find itself in every court in the world.”
There are smaller-scale approaches, he says, without the “ethical problems”. One is painting roofs white to reflect sun, a backyard approach anyone can try, and which would help cool interiors during hot summer days.
Another is genetically modified crops with a higher reflectivity, with variations as simple as leaves that are hairier or have a waxier coating.
Harvard University’s Professor David Keith is leading more research into solar radiation management, arguing in a 2015 paper that the technique could be used in a “temporary, moderate and responsive scenario”.
“Even if we make deep emissions cuts, it might be that the benefits of solar geoengineering outweigh the risks,” he tells SBS. “Or maybe not. To know, we have to decide to learn more.”
 

The belief in a technical solution – that because we have to find something, we will – has psychological roots in an effect known as ‘optimism bias’, says Melbourne psychologist Dr Susie Burke, who has expertise on issues relating to the environment, climate change and natural disasters.
“It’s intrinsic to humans to be optimistically biased,” she says, “and it’s great because it gets us out of bed in the morning and gives us a healthy motivation. But with respect to climate change, it means we end up minimising our personal risk and even risks that pertain to us – and believing the worst problems will happen to other people, somewhere else or into the future.”
She adds, “With the general population who are struggling to make significant changes to their lifestyle, deep down there is a belief that someone, somewhere will come up with something to solve the problem.”
Even talking about geoengineering carries the risk of “moral hazard”, that a solution to rocketing carbon emissions means they can continue unabated. That scenario troubles many.
“There’s a moral hazard in not discussing these things as well,” says Tim Flannery, “because we know we’re going to need them.”
The worst-case scenario – international agreements fail to stop emissions from rising – would force the use of extreme measures. Clive Hamilton thinks sulphate injection is the most likely use of geoengineering, though not yet.
“If we have a series of years where there are catastrophic droughts, heatwaves and hurricanes which cause massive impacts in several countries – also tipping points, so permafrost is now irreversibly melting – what kind of political and geostrategic environment are we going to be facing?” he asks.
“I think in that kind of scenario – which is not just possible but fairly likely – certain scientists promising they can rapidly reduce the earth’s temperature within a year or two are going to start looking increasingly attractive to some nations.”
Andy Pitman says that could lead to war: “You can imagine a situation – and it’s not too far-fetched – where country X starts a major campaign around sulphur injections into the atmosphere, country Y’s rainfall dramatically declines and is going into serious long-term famine, and that instigated a military response.”
And if carbon emissions continued to rise, the sulphate injection would have to be continuous. Otherwise, the particles would drop out of the atmosphere, leading to a sudden, highly disruptive jump in temperature.
If a war, say, or a pandemic was responsible for the break in sulphate injection, the compounding effects could be existential. 

Talking of human extinction in such a scenario is not too far-fetched.

 
The possibilities are less apocalyptic for some form of carbon capture and storage. 

Clive Hamilton identifies land being used by the likes of BECCS – bio-energy carbon capture and storage – to capture carbon as one of the main changes in geoengineering in the last few years.
Plants and trees would be grown for fuel, and the resulting carbon emissions from power generation would be stored away. There’s an example of this in Illinois at an ethanol production plant.
But there are questions over BECCS, not least that “no such economic process [is] available at this point and there may never be”, says Jim Falk.
The sheer amount of land needed is staggering, too. 

In a February 2016 paper in Nature,environmental scientist Philip Williamson estimated that one-third of the world’s arable land (430-580 million hectares of crops) would need planting for BECCS use to limit the temperature rise to 2C by 2100.

This would accelerate deforestation and, given “not unrealistic” assumptions, see carbon emissions actually increase.
Oliver Munnion, of the UK-based BioFuelwatch website, argues that BECCS is more dangerous than solar radiation management.

 “It’s the most outrageous,” he says. “It’s also the favoured approach amongst policy-makers, scientists and industry.
“The idea that we’d harm proven carbon sinks – forests and soils – to create an unproven and untested carbon sink underground is the antithesis of what climate policy should be geared towards.”
The problem facing geoengineering advocates is that most dangerous schemes are possible, but need to be used as a last resort, while the most promising schemes aren’t possible at scale. 

Even if they were, the numbers quickly turn ugly.
In the Nature article, Philip Williamson estimated that growing seaweed as a carbon pool would use nine per cent of the world’s oceans, with unknown environmental impacts.
Utilising the simple solar-radiation management tool of laying a reflective rock on the ground to reduce carbon levels by 12 per cent would need 1-5 kg/sqm of rock to be applied to 15-45 per cent of the earth’s surface, at a total cost of US$60-600 trillion.

That means an area of land at least the size of the old Soviet Union would have to be set aside and the global economy bankrupted.
The further you look, the more improbable geoengineering concepts become. A presentation to the 2016 American Meteorological Conference on Atmospheric Science called for lasers in the sky to microwave and neutralise methane clouds (another greenhouse gas).
UNSW Law professor Rosemary Rayfuse recalls one UK project looking at increasing the reflectivity of the oceans by making white foam, which had to persist for at least three months: “They were proposing to cover the oceans in meringue, which I thought was rather funny!”
David Karoly calls the idea of hanging mirrors in space to reflect sunlight “just stupid”, calculating the need for one million square kilometres of alfoil. Flannery agrees: “Anything that masks the problem, and lets people think they’ve solved it, is a danger.”
Cutting carbon emissions drastically, and now, would start to solve the problem. But that isn’t happening. Campaigners such as Tim Flannery are crossing their fingers that carbon-scrubbing technology we need to take us on “the narrow winding path to heaven” is developed in time.
If neither happens, we’ll be heading down the “broad highway to hell” of having to rely on solar radiation management, where the devil we don’t know is better than a climate gone rogue.
The effects of pumping simulated volcanic fallout into the atmosphere could dwarf the biggest eruptions in history. Start preparing for vivid red sunsets – and an uncertain future

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