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

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

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

Michael SlezakLast modified on Fri 19 Jan 2018 17.00 AEDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before and After

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press link for more: The Guardian

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#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

Biodiversity destruction. #StopAdani #auspol #Qldpol

Could biodiversity destruction lead to a global tipping point?

We are destroying the world’s biodiversity. Yet debate has erupted over just what this means for the planet – and us.

By

Jeremy Hance

Jeremy Hance is a wildlife blogger for the Guardian and a journalist with Mongabay focusing on forests, indigenous people, climate change and more. He is also the author of Life is Good: Conservation in an Age of Mass Extinction.

Just over 250 million years ago, the planet suffered what may be described as its greatest holocaust: ninety-six percent of marine genera (plural of genus) and seventy percent of land vertebrate vanished for good. Even insects suffered a mass extinction – the only time before or since.

Entire classes of animals – like trilobites – went out like a match in the wind.

But what’s arguably most fascinating about this event – known as the Permian-Triassic extinction or more poetically, the Great Dying – is the fact that anything survived at all.

Life, it seems, is so ridiculously adaptable that not only did thousands of species make it through whatever killed off nearly everything (no one knows for certain though theories abound) but, somehow, after millions of years life even recovered and went on to write new tales.

Even as the Permian-Triassic extinction event shows the fragility of life, it also proves its resilience in the long-term. The lessons of such mass extinctions – five to date and arguably a sixth happening as I write – inform science today. Given that extinction levels are currently 1,000 (some even say 10,000) times the background rate, researchers have long worried about our current destruction of biodiversity – and what that may mean for our future Earth and ourselves.

In 2009, a group of researchers identified nine global boundaries for the planet that if passed could theoretically push the Earth into an uninhabitable state for our species. These global boundaries include climate change, freshwater use, ocean acidification and, yes, biodiversity loss (among others). The group has since updated the terminology surrounding biodiversity, now calling it “biosphere integrity,” but that hasn’t spared it from critique.

A paper last year in Trends in Ecology & Evolution scathingly attacked the idea of any global biodiversity boundary.

It makes no sense that there exists a tipping point of biodiversity loss beyond which the Earth will collapse,” said co-author and ecologist, José Montoya, with Paul Sabatier Univeristy in France. “There is no rationale for this.

Montoya wrote the paper along with Ian Donohue, an ecologist at Trinity College in Ireland and Stuart Pimm, one of the world’s leading experts on extinctions, with Duke University in the US.

Montoya, Donohue and Pimm argue that there isn’t evidence of a point at which loss of species leads to ecosystem collapse, globally or even locally. If the planet didn’t collapse after the Permian-Triassic extinction event, it won’t collapse now – though our descendants may well curse us for the damage we’ve done.

Instead, according to the researchers, every loss of species counts. But the damage is gradual and incremental, not a sudden plunge. Ecosystems, according to them, slowly degrade but never fail outright.

“Of more than 600 experiments of biodiversity effects on various functions, none showed a collapse,” Montoya said. “In general, the loss of species has a detrimental effect on ecosystem functions…We progressively lose pollination services, water quality, plant biomass, and many other important functions as we lose species. But we never observe a critical level of biodiversity over which functions collapse.”

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be deeply concerned about biodiversity, according to the researchers. Instead, we should worry about every species lost and not focus on a theoretical line in the sand.

“It is in fact the planetary boundary argument that implies that there is a lot of biodiversity that has no value. There is no problem with losing a small number of species, the argument goes,” Montoya said. “We argue that even small losses of biodiversity have important consequences for ecosystem function and service provisioning.”

In other words, extinction of species may not result in a total collapse of our ecosystems – but the more we lose, the less productive, efficient, and healthy our environment will be. And the more at risk we put ourselves.

Boundary scientists fire back

But, the Stockholm Resilience Centre recently published a long response to Montoya’s paper in the usual way of scientific sparring – publications going back and forth like boxers exchanging blows.

Johan Rockström the executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and one of the leading researchers on planetary boundaries, said that Montoya’s critique didn’t stand up to scrutiny because its authors misunderstood the definitions built around the “biosphere integrity planetary boundary.”

Rockström agrees that there is no evidence of a planetary tipping point when it comes to biodiversity. According to Rockström, biodiversity decline does not have a hard planetary boundary like, say, climate change. Instead he describes biodiversity as a variable that operates “under the hood of the planetary system” because it influences the stability of our climate, ozone layer and oceans – all of which Rockström contends have very clear planetary boundaries.

Johan Rockstrom

Let the environment guide our development

A TED talk by Johan Rockström.

“We have never suggested a planetary scale biodiversity tipping point…” Rockström said. “Instead, the rational for biodiversity as a planetary boundary is that the composition of trees, plants, microbes in soils, phytoplankton in oceans, top predators in ecosystems…together constitute a fundamental core contributor to regulating the state of the planet.”

According to Rockström, biodiversity is one of the pillars supporting our planet – and if too much biodiversity is lost we risk “triggering a tipping point” in our climate or oceans, which in turn could risk pushing the planet into a new state.

“Without biodiversity, no ecosystems. No ecosystems, no biomes. No biomes, no living regulator of all the cycles of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and water,” he added.

Rockström says biodiversity loss could risk the “safe operating space” for humans, leaving us in an alien world increasingly hostile to our own survival. For example, life would still survive under apocalyptic climate change – but we may not.

While ecosystems may not fully collapse, scientists have found that some ecosystems can undergo what they are called “regime shifts.” Coral reefs, overheated by climate change, will shift to a much less productive, much less biodiverse algae-based ecosystem. Climate change, or alternatively humans with chainsaws and fire, can shift forest ecosystems to grasslands. While none of these ecosystems may wholly collapse, they will look nothing like they did after the shift occurs.

Montoya admits that such regime shifts “do actually happen” and is “well established” for some ecosystems – like forests, coral reefs and Arctic sea ice – though “unclear” if it happens in all ecosystems or only a few.

And he adds, perhaps most importantly, that “the mechanisms [of regime shifts] have nothing to do with biodiversity loss.” Instead, they have been driven by climate change or human actions – such as clear-cutting.

Debating definitions

It may be that unclear or shifting definitions are at the root of the dispute.

“Fatally, the boundaries framework lacks clear definitions, or it has too many conflicting definitions, does not specify units, and fails to define terms operationally, thus prohibiting application by those who set policy,” Montoya, Donohut and Pimm write in the paper.

But Rockström contends that when understood correctly the planetary boundary framework holds up to scientific scrutiny. He says planetary boundaries do not mean that humanity can just destroy and upend all the way up to a red line without consequences.

“This is of course just nonsense,” he noted, arguing that the planetary boundary for biosphere integrity is magnitudes more ambitious than the Aichi Targets from the Convention on Biological Diversity, an international agreement set on preserving biodiversity – though already several goals have not been met.

“If the world is able to reduce biodiversity loss below the planetary boundary this would not only require major conservation efforts across the world,” he said, adding that “once inside the safe operating space, we would of course have to continue on a sustainable pathway.”

The Wider Image: Battling deforestation in the Amazon

Burning forest is seen during “Operation Green Wave” conducted by agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, to combat illegal logging in Apui, in the southern region of the state of Amazonas, Brazil, August 4, 2017.

Photograph: Bruno Kelly/Reuters

Rockström said that he believes the disputing researchers have much more in common than their infighting would imply.

“We are [all] working to safeguard biodiversity for sustainable development. We are [all] in the same camp. Complementing each other, they at the ecosystem level, us at the planetary level.”

But Montoya and his group stand by their criticism and are working on a second paper responding to Rockström and his team.

While Montoya’s paper does not critique the other eight planetary boundaries in their paper, Montoya told me that each of the boundaries – even the physical ones – have faced “a lot of controversy.”

“They all suffer from the tipping-point problem,” he said, “which we argue promotes a business-as-usual ethos and distracts us from taking the action that is urgently needed.”

In many ways one could argue that the planetary boundary is an easy and simple way to explain environmental impacts to world leaders – few of whom have any education on ecology or the environment – and the public.

But Montoya argues that the planetary boundaries concept is doing more harm than good.

“Poor or ill-founded science ultimately brings about ineffectual policies at best – and potentially highly damaging ones – and erodes trust in scientists,” he said.

And this can have real world impacts: Montoya and colleagues point to forest policy in Europe as one example.

“The assumption that there is a critical biodiversity level below which forest functioning will collapse prompted managers [to] plant resilient tree species to climate change, pests, and disease,” Montoya explained, adding, “this was recommended to avoid reaching a tipping point in forest service provisioning, primarily timber production.” But the recommendations have resulted in endangered old growth forests and native species, according to Montoya.

A man offers for sale a wounded common buzzard (buteo buteo) in a national road near the village of Thumane on November 8, 2017. The excessive hunting of predatory birds, including eagles the national symbol of Albania, used for stuffing to adorn restaurants or be sold as souvenirs, has led to a serious decline of the population. Worldwide overhunting is one of the major threats to wildlife. Photograph: Gent Shkullaku/AFP/Getty Images

While the on-going debate over planetary boundaries is deeply academic and wonky, it is not without importance to the public. How we communicate environmental crises – and the accuracy of the science that underpins that communication – proves more important with every passing year, as the world walks into climate and ecological uncertainty.

Yes, life itself survived the Permian-Triassic mass extinction event – but most species did not. Believe me, humans probably wouldn’t have survived the tens-of-millions of years that followed the Great Dying: oxygen levels were dangerously low, food would have been scarce, and the world would have looked largely barren and wasted even as some species and ecosystems managed to survive. Outside the moral dilemma of extinction, there is no question that if humans push more-and-more species into oblivion there will be impacts on our society – and they could become catastrophic.

Humans evolved 248 million years later in an Earth that was far more biodiverse and rich, a kind of Eden of abundance and diversity. But our current actions risk all that – and perhaps ourselves.

Press link for more: The Guardian

Paris 1.5C Goal Crucial to Protecting Communities from Rising Seas #auspol #StopAdani #ClimateChange

A study by scientists from Tufts University, Rutgers University, and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany projects that aiming for the lower global average temperature increase under the Paris Climate Change Agreement could save coastal communities and ecosystems from the most dire consequences of global sea-level change.

It also shows that even meeting the Paris targets will result in sizeable sea-level rise.

The 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement has the goal to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Research studies forecast that warming the planet by more than 2 degrees Celsius will result in not only extreme weather events—floods, wildfires, landslides, and hurricanes—but also catastrophic sea level changes, leading to ecosystem loss and mass migration. As temperatures rise, sea levels rise and directly affect coastal areas.

The researchers found that stabilizing global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius between now and 2150—which would require a swifter reduction in carbon emissions than under the 2-degree Celsius goal—would lower the impact of sea-level rise significantly; the global average sea-level in 2150 would be about 7 inches—or 17.7 centimeters—less than under a 2-degree Celsius rise.

The study’s lead author, Klaus Bittermann, a postdoctoral student in the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, said that the 0.5 degree difference could be a matter of life and death, as ecosystems and populations are overwhelmed by tidal flooding and other ecological changes. “For example, salt marshes and mangroves can be drowned if the local rate of relative sea-level rise exceeds their ecological ability” to adapt, he said.

“Some people might argue there will be no sizable difference between the two targets, so we should aim for the higher one, because it’s easier,” Bittermann said. But the findings challenge that idea.

“Those differences turn out to be significant,” he said.

Bittermann did the computational research along with Andrew Kemp, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, and colleagues from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and Rutgers University. He said that highlighting the differences between the two targets contributes to the growing body of evidence that countries should step up efforts to reduce carbon emissions and protect the planet’s future.

Bittermann added that the paper, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, will be included in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2018 special report on 1.5 degrees Celsius, which aggregates current literature.

“I think this special report will be an important contribution to the public discourse,” he said. “It will inform also policymakers about what these Paris goals really mean from a physical and an economic point of view.

To those who want to know what the difference from a global sea level point of view is if you lower the temperature by just another 0.5 degrees Celsius, I think that our paper provides a very clear answer, and I think it is a difference that is worth fighting for.”

To learn more, visit the Tufts University website.

You can download the study here.

Press link for more: Cop23.UNFCCC.INT

The Ocean is Suffocating. #ClimateChange #pollution #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani

A Foreboding Similarity in Today’s Oceans and a 94-Million-Year-Old Catastrophe

The ocean is suffocating—but not for the first time.

Peter BrannenJan 12, 2018

Algae blooms off the coast of New York and New Jersey in August 2015 NASA / AP

The ocean is losing its oxygen.

Last week, in a sweeping analysis in the journal Science, scientists put it starkly: Over the past 50 years, the volume of the ocean with no oxygen at all has quadrupled, while oxygen-deprived swaths of the open seas have expanded by the size of the European Union.

The culprits are familiar: global warming and pollution.

Warmer seawater both holds less oxygen and turbocharges the worldwide consumption of oxygen by microorganisms.

Meanwhile, agricultural runoff and sewage drives suffocating algae blooms.

The analysis builds on a growing body of research pointing to increasingly sick seas pummeled by the effluent of civilization.

In one landmark paper published last year, a research team led by the German oceanographer Sunke Schmidtko quantified for the first time just how much oxygen human civilization has already drained from the oceans.

Compiling more than 50 years of disparate data, gathered on research cruises, from floating palaces of ice in the arctic to twilit coral reefs in the South Pacific, Schmidtko’s team calculated that the Earth’s oceans had lost 2 percent of their oxygen since 1960.

Two percent might not sound that dramatic, but small changes in the oxygen content of the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere in the ancient past are thought to be responsible for some of the most profound events in the history of life.

Some paleontologists have pointed to rising oxygen as the fuse for the supernova of biology at the Cambrian explosion 543 million years ago.

Similarly, the fever-dream world of the later Carboniferous period is thought to be the product of an oxygen spike, which subsidized the lifestyles of preposterous animals, like dragonflies the size of seagulls.

On the other hand, dramatically declining oxygen in the oceans like we see today is a feature of many of the worst mass extinctions in earth history.

“[Two percent] is pretty significant,” says Sune Nielsen, a geochemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

“That’s actually pretty scary.”

Nielsen is one of a group of scientists probing a series of strange ancient catastrophes when the ocean lost much of its oxygen for insight into our possible future in a suffocating world. He has studied one such biotic crisis in particular that might yet prove drearily relevant. Though little known outside the halls of university labs, it was one of the most severe crises of the past 100 million years.

It’s known as Oceanic Anoxic Event 2.

The Mesozoic era, stretching from 252 to 66 million years ago, is sometimes mistakenly thought of as sort of long and uneventful Pax Dinosauria—a stable, if alien world.

But the period was occasionally punctuated by severe climate and ocean changes, and even disaster.

Ninety-four million years ago, while the supersonic asteroid that would eventually incinerate dinosaurs was still silently boomeranging around the solar system, a gigantic pulse of carbon dioxide rose from the bottom of the ocean.

The Earth warmed, the seas rose, and oxygen-deprived waters spread.

The smothering seas mercilessly culled through plankton, bizarre bivalves, and squid-like creatures whose tentacles long dangled from stately whorled shells.

For the dolphin-like ichthyosaurs, Oceanic Anoxic Event 2, or OAE2 might have been the coup de grâce.

The ocean reptiles had been patrolling the ancient seas for more than 150 million years before seemingly taking their last gasps suspiciously close to the event.

“Basically the entire continental shelf went anoxic,” says Nielsen. “There was no oxygen at the bottom of the shelf anywhere in the world.”

Today, as much as 90 percent of commercial fish and shellfish are caught on these shallow shelves—the broad flanks of our continents that slip coyly under the sea, sometimes for hundreds of miles, before remembering to drop off into the abyss. And already, spreading anoxia is beginning to advertise its deadly promise on these fishing grounds: In 2006 a seafloor survey off of Oregon revealed that rockfish, familiar fixtures of the rocky bottom, had completely abandoned their haunts, as anoxic water—water with no dissolved oxygen—spread onto the shallow shelf.

But 94 million years ago in the Cretaceous, this problem was not just a seasonal nuisance. It was a global catastrophe.

If dromeosaurs had learned to pilot industrial bottom trawlers on the continental shelf they would have gone bankrupt pulling up empty nets.

The source of the great smothering in the Cretaceous seems to have been a molten font burbling deep beneath an ancient sea that separated North from South America.

The lava from these eruptions makes up much of what today is known as the Caribbean Large Igneous Province, a vast expanse of frozen lava that stretches from Ecuador in the Pacific to the Antilles bracing against the open Atlantic.

Like many scientific sobriquets, “large igneous province” fails utterly to capture the phenomenon it describes—though no description could ever really succeed in evoking its terrible grandeur.

In the United States, large igneous provinces might be more familiar to Manhattanites gazing across the Hudson at the towering basalt cliffs of the New Jersey Palisades (which, along with volcanic rocks of the same age from Nova Scotia to Brazil, are tied to a catastrophic mass extinction 201 million years ago), or to windsurfers in the black canyons of the Columbia River Gorge (which was formed by a later, smaller eruptive event).

The worst mass extinction of all time, the End-Permian mass extinction 252 million years ago, left behind a large igneous province so sweeping that today it blankets much of Siberia.

In fact, eruptions on this scale, though geologically brief and thankfully rare, are associated with at least four of Earth’s five major mass extinctions (and most of the dozen-or-so less severe, though still transformative, prehistoric crises like OAE2).

Though the link between these eruptions and the choking seas that accompany them isn’t immediately obvious—that is, how exactly it is that one drives the other—the answer lies in life itself. And strangely, the same mechanisms that pushed the Cretaceous oceans to the edge are also driving the worrying modern expansion of anoxia in today’s oceans.

* * *

Last summer, scientists in the Gulf of Mexico watched with growing alarm as the largest dead zone in recorded history spread across the sea, from Texas to the mouth of the Mississippi.

This almost 9,000-square-mile swath of oxygen-poor ocean rendered one of the country’s most productive fishing grounds almost completely lifeless.

Similar low-oxygen seas are spreading around the world.

Though not as exciting as Jurassic Park, summertime boating in the lifeless Gulf is just about as close as you can get to experiencing the Late Cretaceous planet of OAE2. “The Gulf of Mexico today is a good analogy,” says Nielsen.

“The best way to think about OAE2 is just gigantic dead zones all over the world.”

Today’s expanding dead zones are driven, perhaps counterintuitively, by plant food.

When farmers in the country’s breadbasket spread phosphorus and nitrogen-based fertilizers on their crops, much of that Miracle-Gro eventually washes into streams and rivers, and then on into the mighty Mississippi.

Where the Mississippi meets the Gulf of Mexico south of Louisiana, this plant food from the heartland proves to be as good as advertised, fertilizing huge blooms of algae that, when they die, decompose and rob the seas of oxygen.

“It may seem counterintuitive at first—you think, ‘I’m putting lots of nutrients into the ocean that’s great,’” says Nielsen. But “ it actually strips the oxygen out of the ocean.”

In 2014, fertilizer from soy and corn farms in Ohio fueled an algae bloom on Lake Erie so large and noxious that it shut down drinking water for the city of Toledo. Erie vacationers have grown accustomed to the annual appearance of toxic slime season.

In dinosaur society, agriculture presumably played a limited role, and if tyrannosaurs had vast sewer systems, paleontologists haven’t found them yet.

So what was driving the global dead zones of the Late Cretaceous? That leads back to the molten forge burbling insidiously under the Caribbean. “The magmatism definitely drove an increase in marine productivity [like we see today],” says Chris Lowery, a paleontologist at the University of Texas at Austin. “How you connect those things though—there’s still some debate.”

One of two things seems to have been happening. On the one hand, this strange volcanism could have been seeding the metastasizing algae blooms directly, by injecting a blast of trace metals, like iron, into the seawater. This would have fertilized the ancient oceans (much like some brash geoengineers have proposed doing today to sequester carbon in the ocean).

On the other hand, the volcanism might have fueled these runaway plankton blooms more obliquely. By injecting huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the oceans and atmosphere, they drove global warming and more intense weather, as inevitably happens when you inject too much CO2 into the atmosphere.

Indeed, carbon dioxide-driven global warming is a feature of many of the worst mass extinctions in Earth history.

In the Late Cretaceous, this hot, stormy world would have worn down continental rock more quickly, releasing more nutrients like phosphorus from the land, which would have then washed into the rivers.

Just like today’s fertilizers, this nutrient-rich brew would have been carried into the open sea, where it would have fueled explosions of algae that would die and take the ocean’s oxygen with it.

On top of all that, warmer water is just able to hold less oxygen, a phenomenon documented in the modern oceans as well.

Perhaps, most likely, all of these mechanisms were working in concert, as they will be in our near future.

Who knows what legacy humans will eventually leave in the geological record, but the residue of Oceanic Anoxic Event 2 is painted in rocks around the world, most strikingly in the precipitous Furlo Gorge in central Italy. The gorge is carved out of the chalky submarine snowdrift of Cretaceous sea life—a seafloor that was shoved into the air during later tectonic collisions and which is part of a vast pile of ocean rock that makes up much of the Appenine Mountains. It’s a predictably beautiful limestone canyon, long traversed by Roman and Etruscan traders. But between stacks of this healthy white Cretaceous seafloor, a line of sickly black shale cuts through the walls.

This shale marks OAE2. Organic sea life that died during the episode was allowed to fall and gather on the stifling sea bottom, where it couldn’t decay. Eventually it became this carbon-rich black shale, and carbon isotopes in rocks all over the world indicate a massive global burial of life in these deadly seas. (Unsurprisingly, the black rocks of OAE2, rich with the carbon of ancient marine life, have proven attractive to oil prospectors.)

The dark dash in the Italian limestone isn’t far from a more famous rock outcrop where Walter and Luis Alvarez described a younger line in the rocks marking the dinosaurs’ eventual extraterrestrial doomsday. Like that later boundary, the dreadful delineation of OAE2 shows up in similar blemishes of the same age around the world, from rock outcrops in Germany and Morocco, to drill cores in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans, testifying to Late Cretaceous seas everywhere briefly seized by suffocation.

Nielsen’s team, led by Chadlin Ostrander at Arizona State along with Jeremy Owens at Florida State, decided to study one such core, this one drilled off the coast of Suriname. They wanted to illuminate, in high-res, the grisly timetable of this global asphyxiation, and doing so required a stroll through the lonelier reaches of the periodic table. The group knew that when there’s oxygen in the ocean, the seafloor becomes littered with magnesium oxides. These minerals precipitate out of oxygen-rich seawater all over the world today, coating sand grains and forming hunks of the stuff on the seabed—and providing an irresistible trove of rare metals for the burgeoning industry of seafloor mining.

The group also knew that when magnesium oxides form, they just so happen to suck up the sea’s reserves of heavy thallium as well. So by studying the ratio of heavy to light thallium in the ancient Suriname mud, the group was able to reconstruct—over a fine-scale timespan of tens of thousands of years—exactly how fast oxygen dwindled in an ancient ocean shrouded by 94 million years of history.

When Nielsen described this forensic legerdemain to me in his office on Cape Cod, I shook my head in awe.  Who ever came up such an ingenious system? He winced and laughed, seeming to conceal years of academic trauma. “That’s basically what I’ve been working on for the last 15 years.”

What his team found (and published in a recent paper in Science) was that OAE2 itself lasted for almost half a million years. But it took only on the order of thousands of years of diminishing oxygen to reach its choking crescendo. “The rates between now and OAE2 are actually pretty comparable,” he said. “Dead zones today are expanding at a global scale, pretty much everywhere you see around the world. Around the continental shelves you see larger and more persistent dead zones, and that’s what you’d expect if the ocean is losing its oxygen.”

* * *

OAE2 marked something of an end for a strange, broader era of stress in Earth’s oceans, a history hinted at by the disaster’s sequel status (Ocean Anoxic Event 2: Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…). Almost 30 million years before, the similarly dramatic Early Aptian Oceanic Anoxic Event throttled ancient ocean life, as did a number of lesser events peppered throughout the Cretaceous. Even earlier, the Jurassic period suffered its own anoxic spasms.

Each summer, Rowan Martindale, from the University of Texas at Austin, ventures to ancient seafloors in Slovenia and Morocco to study the so-called Toarcian Oceanic Anoxic Event of 183 million years ago, a disaster fueled once again by CO2-spewing volcanism as Antarctica tore from Africa—a crisis that wiped out strange reef-building bivalves, corals, and a slew of other ocean critters. It’s a disaster she says has many of the hallmarks of other mass extinctions.

“You have your initial eruption, which puts a massive amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” she says. “This causes your atmospheric carbon dioxide to rise and temperature to rise, which can result in a whole other host of environmental changes, like the release of terrestrial methane and methane clathrates on the seafloor, ocean acidification, and all of these other knock-on effects. So we see warming and expanded oxygen-minimum zones, which manifest as oceanic anoxic events in the rock record.”

But after the late Cretaceous, and that black line in the Furlo Gorge of Italy, the age of mass suffocation was largely over. “OAE2 is really the last big one,” says Lowery, the University of Texas paleontologist.

As the continents carried on their eternal wander, vast new oceans opened up between them. Others closed. It may have been that 94 million years ago, this roaming world accidentally created a planet uniquely primed to go anoxic. Though Pangaea had long since blown to pieces, it took time for the great continental migration to reshape the planet, and the continents still huddled closely around their growing Atlantic toddler. Where New Jersey and Morocco once described the same unbroken expanse, the widening gulf between them had, by now, become a proper North Atlantic Ocean. But the South Atlantic remained little more than a narrow channel—the jigsaw puzzle of South America and Africa only slightly jostled.

“Before the South Atlantic opened up, the North Atlantic and the [proto-Mediterranean and Indian Ocean] were kind of these little, fairly restricted seas,” Lowery says. “And so it kind of lets you build up these low oxygen areas where you’re not having a lot of circulation and current coming through and aerating the water. But then after the South Atlantic opened, global circulation changed and everything was just kind of freshened up. So you lost the preconditions for having worldwide oceanic anoxic events.”

Today, the preconditions might be back, though in a form unlike anything in Earth history. It’s not nearly as warm as it was during the Cretaceous greenhouse, a circumstance that helped lead the oceans closer to the edge—though that may change in the coming centuries. And the continents are arranged more favorably than in the stagnant bathtub of the Late Cretaceous. Only a global technological civilization of billions of people, drenching the world’s shallow seas with phosphorus and nitrogen and blasting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, could summon OAE2 back from the fossil record.

The circumstances of the Earth’s ancient anoxic events might have been strange, but not nearly strange as our modern world. As with global warming, sea-level rise, and ocean acidification, humanity still has time to avoid the grislier scenarios promised by spreading anoxia. But as Nielsen, Ostrander, and Owens write: “Ancient OAE studies are destined to become uncomfortably applicable in the not-so-distant future.”  In other words, our project as a species may well ultimately be the same as that of a large igneous province—producing in our eruptions of carbon dioxide and nutrient pollution an increasingly tenantless and sickly ocean beloved by bacteria.

Press link for more: The Atlantic

#ClimateChange 2017 should send shivers down the spines of policy makers. #auspol #StopAdani

by David Spratt

Much of what happened in 2017 was predictable: news of climate extremes became, how can I put it … almost the norm.

There was record-breaking heat on several continents, California’s biggest wildfire (extraordinarily in the middle of winter), an ex-tropical cyclone hitting Ireland (yes, Ireland) in October, and the unprecedented Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria that swept through the Atlantic in August.

The US government agency, the NOAA, reported that there were 16 catastrophic billion-dollar weather/climate events in the USA during 2017.

And 2017 “marks the first time some of the (scientific) papers concluded that an event could not have occurred — like, at all — in a world where global warming did not exist.

The studies suggested that the record-breaking global temperatures in 2016, an extreme heat wave in Asia and a patch of unusually warm water in the Alaskan Gulf were only possible because of human-caused climate change”, Reuters reported.

At both poles, the news continues to be not good.

At the COP23 in Bonn, Pam Pearson, Founder and Director of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, warned that the cryoshere is becoming “an irreversible driver of climate change”. She said that most cryosphere thresholds are determined by peak temperature, and the length of time spent at that peak, warning that “later, decreasing temperatures after the peak are largely irrelevant, especially with higher temperatures and longer duration peaks”.

Thus “overshoot scenarios”, which are now becoming the norm in policy-making circles (including all 1.5°C scenarios) hold much greater risks.

As well, Pearson said that  2100 is a misleading and minimising measure of cryosphere response: “When setting goals, it is important to look to new irreversible impacts and the steady state circumstances. The end of the century is too soon to show that before but inevitable response especially for sea level rises.” Pearson added that: “What keeps cryosphere scientists up at night are irreversible thresholds, particularly West Antarctica and Greenland. The consensus figure for the irreversible melting of Greenland is at 1.6°C.”

So what did we learn about the climate system in 2017? Here’s three that stand out, that should send shivers down the spines of policy makers.

1.  2017 was the second hottest year on record and the hottest non-El Nino year on record

Whilst not all sources have yet released data on annual warming for last year, the Copernicus Climate Change Service, the first major international weather agency to report global 2017 temperatures, said they averaged 1.2°C above pre-industrial times. 2017 was slightly cooler than the warmest year on record, 2016, and warmer than the previous second warmest year, 2015, Reuters reported.

Other organisations have unofficial figures which either agree with this assessment, or say that 2017 has tied with 2015. And last year was Australia’s third-warmest year on record.

It is no surprise that the last three years have been the hottest on the instrumental record. What is remarkable is that 2017 was as hot, or hotter than 2015, because 2015 and 2016 were both El Nino years, and the evidence shows that El Nino years are, on average, about 0.15°C warmer than La Nina years.

In fact, a remarkably hot 2017 crushed the old record for hottest non-El Niño year (2014) by an astounding 0.17°C.

The underlying temperature trend is being driven by continuing high levels of climate pollution: The UN says carbon dioxide levels grew at record pace in 2016. The atmospheric carbon dioxide  averaged 403.3 parts per million (ppm) over the year, up from 400 ppm in 2015. The growth rate was 50 percent faster than the average over the past decade.

And global carbon emissions are headed up again after three years in which human-caused emissions appeared to be levelling off. A two percent increase is projected overall, with the highest rise coming in China, according to new research presented at the climate talks in Bonn.

In 2017 we also learned that there was no pause in global warming: the so-called ’slow down’ in climate change between 1998 and 2012 was caused by a lack of data from the Arctic.

2. It is likely to get hotter than we think

Two significant pieces of work released towards the end of 2017 suggest that warming is likely to be greater than the projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on which climate policy-making and carbon budgets are generally based.

This is because what is called Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (ECS), an estimate of how much the planet will warm for a doubling in the level of greenhouse gases, is higher than the median of the IPCC’s modelling analysis.

In “Greater future global warming inferred from Earth’s recent energy budget” published in Nature in December 2017, Brown and Caldeira compared the performance of a wide range of climate models (raw model projections) with recent observations (especially on the balance of incoming and outgoing top-of-the-atmosphere radiation that ultimately determines the Earth’s temperature), in order to assess which models perform best.

The models that best capture current conditions (the “observationally-informed” models) produce 15% more warming by 2100 than the IPCC suggests, hence reducing the “carbon budget” by around 15% for the 2C target.

For example, they find the warming associated by the IPCC with RCP 4.5 emissions scenario would in fact “follow the trajectory previously associated with (higher emissions) RCP 6.0” scenario.

They also find that the observationally-informed ECS prediction has a mean value of 3.7°C (for a doubling of the atmospheric greenhouse gas level), compared to 3.1°C used in raw models, and in the carbon budget analyses widely used by the IPCC, the UN and at climate policy conferences.

In “Well below 2C: Mitigation strategies for avoiding dangerous to catastrophic climate changes”, published in September 2017, Xu and Ramanathan look at what are called the “fat tail” risks. These are the low-probability, high-impact (LPHI) consequences (“fat tails”) of future emission scenarios; that is, events with a 5% probability at the top end of the range of possible outcomes.

These “top end” risks are more likely to occur than we think, so “it is important to use high-end climate sensitivity because some studies have suggested that 3D climate models have underestimated three major positive climate feedbacks: positive ice albedo feedback from the retreat of Arctic sea ice, positive cloud albedo feedback from retreating storm track clouds in mid-latitudes, and positive albedo feedback by the mixed-phase (water and ice) clouds.”

When these are taken into account, the researchers find that the ECS is more than 40% higher than the IPCC mid-figure, at 4.5-4.7°C. And this is without taking into account carbon cycle feedbacks (such as melting permafrost and the declining efficiency of forests carbon sinks), and increase methane emissions from wetlands, which together could add another 1°C to warming be 2100.

This work compliments other recent work which also suggests a higher climate sensitivity:

Fasullo and Trenberth found that the climate models that most accurately capture observed relative humidity in the tropics and subtropics and associated clouds were among those with a higher sensitivity of around 4°C.

Zhai et al. found that seven models that are consistent with the observed seasonal variation of low-altitude marine clouds yield an ensemble-mean sensitivity of 3.9°C.

Friedrich et al. show that climate models may be underestimating climate sensitivity because it is not uniform across different circumstances, but in fact higher in warmer, inter-glacial periods (such as the present) and lower in colder, glacial periods. Based on a study of glacial cycles and temperatures over the last 800,000 years, the authors conclude that in warmer periods climate sensitivity averages around 4.88°C. Professor Michael Mann, of Penn State University, says the paper appears “sound and the conclusions quite defensible”.

Lauer et al. found that climate models that most accurately simulate recent cloud cover changes in the east Pacific point to an amplifying effect on global warming and thus a more sensitive climate.

And the bottom line?

If this work is correct, then the pledges made under the Paris Accord would not produce warming of around 3°C as is widely discussed, but a figure closer to and even above  4°C.

And the total carbon budget would a quarter smaller than is generally accepted, or even less.

3. Climate models under-estimate future risks

This year, the Breakthrough Centre for Climate Restoration in Melbourne, published What Lies Beneath, on the scientific understatement of climate risks. The report found that human-induced climate change is an existential risk to human civilisation, yet much climate research understates climate risks and provides conservative projections. Reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that are crucial to climate policymaking and informing public narrative are characterised by scientific reticence, paying limited attention to lower-probability, high-risk events that are becoming increasingly likely. (Disclosure: I was a co-author of this report.)

But don’t take my word.  At the climate policy conference in Bonn, Phil Duffy, the Director of the Woods Hole Institute, explained the scientific reticence regarding the biggest system feedback issues:

The best example of reticence is permafrost…  It’s absolutely essential that this feedback loop not get going seriously, if it does there is simply no way to control it… The scientific failure comes in because none of this is in climate models and none of this is considered in the climate policy discussion… climate models simply omit emissions from the warming permafrost, but we know that is the wrong answer because that tacitly assumes that these emissions are zero and we know that’s not right…

And the problems of underestimation of future climate impacts from current models was explicitly recognised by the US government in its Climate Science Special Report: Fourth National Climate Assessment. In a chapter on “Potential Surprises: Compound Extremes and Tipping Element”, two key findings were:

• Positive feedbacks (self-reinforcing cycles) within the climate system have the potential to accelerate human-induced climate change and even shift the Earth’s climate system, in part or in whole, into new states that are very different from those experienced in the recent past (for example, ones with greatly diminished ice sheets or different large-scale patterns of atmosphere or ocean circulation). Some feedbacks and potential state shifts can be modeled and quantified; others can be modeled or identified but not quantified; and some are probably still unknown. (Very high confidence in the potential for state shifts and in the incompleteness of knowledge about feedbacks and potential state shifts).

• While climate models incorporate important climate processes that can be well quantified, they do not include all of the processes that can contribute to feedbacks, compound extreme events, and abrupt and/or irreversible changes.

For this reason, future changes outside the range projected by climate models cannot be ruled out (very high confidence). Moreover, the systematic tendency of climate models to underestimate temperature change during warm paleoclimates suggests that climate models are more likely to underestimate than to overestimate the amount of long-term future change (medium confidence).

The problem is that the notion that future climate changes may be faster and hotter than those projected by climate models is one rarely understood by climate policy-makers, and rarely discussed by those who do understand.

If climate policymaking is to be soundly based, a re-framing of scientific research within an existential risk-management framework is now urgently required.

This must be taken up not just in the work of the IPCC, but also in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations if we are to address the real climate challenge.

Press link for more: Climate Code Red

The unlikely pioneers fighting #climatechange #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol

An agronomist in North Carolina, an ironworker in California and a coral restoration worker off the Florida coast. (John West/Justin Moore/Coral Restoration Foundation/The WorldPost)

This is the weekly roundup of The WorldPost, of which Nathan Gardels is the editor in chief.

The historian Arnold Toynbee famously argued that the well-being of a civilization can be judged by its ability to respond to human and environmental challenges.

The Donald Trump administration’s full-throttle reverse course aimed at renewing fossil fuels as the chief source of energy — as the planet faces the droughts, deluges and firestorms of climate change — would seem to indicate an unwell civilization indeed.

Yet what’s missing from such a dire verdict is that the response to climate change is so distributed that we don’t apprehend the massive changes actually taking place.

In today’s world, we no longer have to go up the tree of political authority to make something happen.

People can do it on their own, through interconnectedness with others.

“Our civilization has developed extraordinary capacities, but we are unable to see the image they produce,” the celebrated designer and “Massive Change” author Bruce Mau has said. “It is as if that image has been cut up into the billion pixels of everyone’s contribution, and we can only see the pixel that we are working on but never the image as a whole.”

As only someone with the eye of a designer like Mau might put it, “The important challenge is to maintain the visibility of accomplishments — the whole image — so the momentum toward massive change grows.”

In The WorldPost this week, we make a small contribution to pulling together the pixels into a whole image by sampling the widely dispersed responses to climate change, from research into carbon capture to coral nurseries in the Florida Keys, the growth of green jobs in California’s oil belt, and conservation agriculture in North Carolina.

“Farewell to Ice” author Peter Wadhams points out the “stock-flow” conundrum of de-carbonizing the planet — the problem is not only new emissions but the already damaging levels of carbon deposited in the atmosphere from past burning of fossil fuels that will remain for hundreds of years.

“If we want to survive climate change, we must double down in research manpower and dollars to find and improve technology to remove carbon dioxide — or at least reduce its effects on the climate,” he writes.

“We now emit 41 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year.

The current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is already high enough to bring about a warming of more than 2 degrees after it has worked its way through the climate system, so if we want to save the Paris accord, we must either reduce our emissions to zero, which is not yet possible, or combine a significant emissions reduction with the physical removal of about 20 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year indefinitely.”

The only answer, according to Wadhams, is new carbon capture technologies that reduce the stock of carbon, some of which are employed in innovative projects in Houston, Iceland and elsewhere.

Marine ecologist John Bruno reports on innovative efforts to regenerate coral reefs — thus saving the “tropical forests” of the ocean — that are getting bleached to death by warming seas. Bruno documents several such projects, from a coral restoration nursery off the Florida coast where marine biologists are growing and replanting new coral on degraded reefs, to the experiments of molecular biologists using cutting-edge gene editing tools like CRISPR to alter the DNA of corals so they can better withstand rising temperatures.

From the oil belt of California’s San Joaquin Valley, Bridget Huber reports that climate policies are not killing jobs, but creating them.

Through the prism of on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs of the ironworkers’ and electrical workers’ unions in Fresno, she traces the return of robust job and wage growth to what had become a depressed economic zone.

This is largely thanks to state mandates to meet requirements for renewable energy production. “Solar saved our bacon,” one veteran ironworker told her.

Also contributing in a major way to high-wage employment, she reports, are the construction jobs associated with California’s massive high-speed rail project running through the region.

Brian Barth reports from farms in eastern North Carolina where pork production giant Smithfield Foods — the largest producer of pork in the world — has rolled out efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of its meat production “According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” writes Barth, “agriculture accounts for about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, roughly the same as the combined total for electricity and heating, and well above the transportation sector, which contributes just 14 percent.

Add emissions from refrigeration, shipping and other activities required to get your dinner from farm to plate, and the food system’s share of global greenhouse gases climbs to roughly a third, making it easily the most climate-unfriendly sector of the global economy.”

Barth discusses Paul Hawken’s book “Natural Capitalism,” in which the environmentalist lays out the top 100 solutions to climate change.

Of these, “11 are related to food systems, seven to energy systems and none to transportation systems.

Electric vehicles are #26, while ‘tree intercropping’ — planting strips of apple trees throughout a corn field, for example — is #17.

The top food-related practices — reducing food waste (#3) and switching to a plant-rich diet (#4) — are largely consumer-driven solutions.”

Yet Barth’s reporting suggests that farmers and producers play a crucial part in reducing emissions as well. Barth also discusses silvopasture — a “mashup of forestry and grazing” — which is the highest-ranked agricultural solution to climate change in Hawken’s analysis.

The challenge for all these distributed cases of climate action is how to scale them up to realize the potential for massive change as the clock ticks.

The political roadblocks of vested interests which always resist change aside, what has been true throughout history is that, in the end, scale and resources follow cultural commitments.

That commitment will only grow deeper if society becomes more fully aware of the whole picture of what it is already doing.

This was produced by The WorldPost, a partnership of the Berggruen Institute and The Washington Post.

Update: https://www.facebook.com/StopAdaniBrisbane/videos/395052270934742/

Press link for more: Washington Post

Depleting Nature’s stocks. #StopAdani Australia uses 5.4 times what earth can provide. #auspol

Humanity uses 70% more of the global commons than the Earth can regenerate

Mathis Wackernagel, CEO and co-founder of Global Footprint Network

Persistent ecological overuse inevitably depletes nature’s stocks. Photograph: NASA/REX/Shutterstock

Households and governments who want to succeed track both expenditure and income. Businesses similarly keep a keen eye on their balance sheets.

So what does the physical balance sheet of our biggest household – the Earth – look like?

The income side would tell us how much our planet provides in matter and energy.

The expenditure side would tell us how much material and energy people use – or what we call humanity’s ecological footprint.

Ecological footprint accounting was developed to address the question: how much of the biosphere’s regenerative capacity – or biocapacity – does human activity demand?

Global Footprint Network measures this human demand for ecosystem services by adding up the space occupied by food, fibre and timber provision, space occupied by infrastructure, and the absorption of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Indeed, carbon dioxide emissions take up approximately 60% of humanity’s ecological footprint.

Australians use 5.4 times

This audit can be done at any scale.

Analysing the accounts for the entire world enables us to compare the material demands of humanity against the size of the global commons.

Global Footprint Network’s most recent data show that humanity overshoots the regenerative capacity of our global commons, and now demands about 70% more than what the biosphere can regenerate.

In other words, we are using 1.7 Earths.

Keeping humanity’s ecological footprint within the planet’s biocapacity is the minimum threshold for sustainability.

That threshold can be exceeded for some time, just as households can spend more money than they earn by dipping into savings, thereby depleting their assets.

But persistent ecological overuse inevitably depletes nature’s stocks, through the collapse of fisheries, soil loss, freshwater overuse, over harvesting of forests – or leads to climate change from the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The Stockholm Resilience Centre has identified nine planetary boundaries, required to maintain the integrity of healthy, productive ecosystems. The UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) bring together a vision for safeguarding the health of the global commons while ensuring flourishing lives and wellbeing for everyone. The Stockholm Resilience Centre calls this vision the safe operating space.

Oxford University economist Kate Raworth adds the social dimensions and calls it doughnut economics – with the outer circle of the doughnut representing the ecological boundaries within which we need to operate, and the inner one the social necessities required for thriving lives for all.

The core idea of socially and ecologically safe operating space was quantified for the first time in 2002 by Aurélien Boutaud.

He combined the Ecological Footprint and United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP)’s Human Development Index (HDI) to track sustainable development outcomes country by country, city by city. His approach has evolved into the HDI footprint diagram. His framework has been used widely, by those including UNDP, UN Environment, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, and WWF’s Living Planet Report. It even serves as the foundation of the Philips sustainability programme.

Figure 1: Mapping sustainable development outcome: HDI and the Footprint of nations, in 2013

One axis of the diagram is sustainability – or to what extent development can be supported within the Earth’s means. It is measured by the ratio between what people take compared to what the global commons can renew. The second axis, development, is measured by HDI, which captures income, access to basic education, and longevity.

Global sustainable development occurs where these two dimensions intersect. Available biocapacity is now 1.7 hectares per person. Some of this, however, is needed to support wildlife – and we also need to leave room for a growing human population. So the average ecological footprint per person worldwide needs to be significantly smaller if we are to live within nature’s means.

The figure above shows the latest results for most countries of the world (2013), comparing their footprints per person against the world’s per capita biocapacity, to show how far their development models could be replicated worldwide.

Most countries do not meet both minimum requirements. Since every country has different amounts of biocapacity within its natural boundaries, this analysis can be adapted to each country.

Using a scale from zero to one, UNDP considers an HDI of more than 0.7 to be “high human development”, with 0.8 “very high”.

For global sustainable development to occur, the world average would need to be in the marked panel at the bottom right (the global sustainable development quadrant). This is defined by an average footprint of less than 1.7 global hectares per person and an HDI score of more than 0.7. Yet the quadrant is ominously empty.

The HDI score of the UK is 0.9, but its ecological footprint per person is five global hectares, high above the sustainable development quadrant.

India has an HDI score of 0.6, and an ecological footprint per person of 1.1 global hectares, suggesting the need to increase the quality of life of citizens and the footprint.

Global sustainable development is necessary for a thriving future.

The SDGs give us strategies on how to get there.

Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) global commons initiative makes obvious the dependence on Earth’s physical health. It reminds us that our fabulous planet enables the wellbeing of all, if we manage it carefully.

Measuring whether we are achieving these desired outcomes enables us to take charge of the future we want.

We can explore countries’ resource balances, and compare them with what would be in their economic self interest. And we can allocate our budgets and choose our development strategies more effectively so that they serve the goals we have wisely chosen through the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement.

Therefore, Global Footprint Network firmly endorses the GEF’s initiative, which stimulates the collaborative effort needed to create a world where all thrive within the means of the planet’s regenerative capacity.

Press link for more: The Guardian

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

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

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

Nina Golgowski

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

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

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

James D. Morgan via Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press link for more: Huffington Post

1.5C a missed Target #ClimateChange #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani

Leaked Draft of Landmark Climate Change Report Pours Cold Water on 1.5°C Goal

Missed Targets

Bar a concerted global effort to reduce emissions and remove carbon from the atmosphere, the world is highly likely to exceed the most ambitious climate goal set by the Paris Agreement by the 2040s, according to a leaked draft of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report obtained by Reuters.

The IPCC is expected to release the final version of their highly anticipated Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C in October.

The preliminary version obtained by Reuters was submitted to a small group of experts and government officials for review and was not meant for public release.

Every few years, the IPCC publishes an Assessment Report containing the available research about the current state of climate change.

This year’s special report is the first focused on what is possibly the Paris Agreement’s most controversial climate goal: limiting global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

Though some countries are in strong support of taking action to ensure the world meets this climate goal, research has shown that we are highly unlikely to do so.

The draft of the special report obtained by Reuters seems to confirm this low probability of success: “There is very high risk that […] global warming will exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels [should emissions continue at the current pace].”

The draft also states that meeting the climate goal would require an “unprecedented” leap from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy and extensive reforms everywhere from industry to agriculture.

Additionally, while curbing global temperatures would help reduce some of the worst impacts of climate change, including sea level rise and droughts, it would not be enough to protect the planet’s most fragile ecosystems, including polar ice caps and coral reefs.

Political Motives?

While the findings currently included in the report confirm what the public may consider the worst-case scenario, scientists who have read the report are not surprised by its contents.

“The report is unexceptional,” Peter Wadhams, Professor of Ocean Physics at the University of Cambridge, told Futurism. “It was already clear to every climate scientist that a 1.5 degrees Celsius warming limit would be breached by 2050 (in fact, probably much earlier) in the absence of drastic carbon capture measures.”

Gabriel Marty, a climate change analyst and former U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) delegate for France, told Futurism that it’s too soon to speculate on the content of the final report.

However, once it is released, he said readers should note the treatment of the uncertainties and risks of the so-called “bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)” technologies designed to suck carbon emissions out of the atmosphere.

The risks associated [with heavily relying on these technologies] must be clearly outlined,” said Marty. “They do not exist yet, the scale that would be needed would be enormous, and the adverse impacts on land and water resources would likely be huge.”

According to sources familiar with the IPCC’s proceedings, the panel has been criticized in the past for being too coy about the limitations of BECCS and for understating their risks in order to present the 2 degrees Celsius target as “still viable.”

Wadhams also mentioned the possibility that the IPCC’s hesitation to release the special report itself could be politically motivated.

“The IPCC has long since become a political rather than a scientific organization, so their secretiveness and sensitivity about a perfectly ordinary report has some political motive,” he told Futurism.

““A lot could still change between now and the final version.”

Roz Pidcock, head of communications for the IPCC Working Group 1, told Futurism that that’s not the case. She said the fact that the special report is currently confidential has nothing to do with a lack of transparency on the part of the panel — they simply aren’t finished with it yet.

“All of the expert and government review comments that come in over the next few weeks are taken on board […] Just to give an idea of what that involves, the first draft of this report received 12,895 comments from nearly 500 expert reviewers around the world,” said Pidcock. “A lot could still change between now and the final version.”

We will need to wait until October for the IPCC’s final take on the viability of the extremely ambitious 1.5 degrees Celsius limit, but whatever the contents of the report, we can’t let it discourage us from taking the strongest action possible to prevent further damage to our planet.

Press link for more: Futurism.com