Flood

Recent Arctic warming and ice melt are ‘unprecedented’ in human history. #StopAdani

By Andrew Freedman

Sea ice near Svalbard, Norway.

Image: Shutterstock / Avatar_023

Each year for the past 12 years, an international team of scientists have issued a “report card” on the Arctic climate system. The report amounts to a physical exam of the vast, rapidly changing region, including details on everything from surface air temperatures to sea ice melt and permafrost loss.

With each passing year, the report cards have become more dire, depicting a region that is moving into a totally new regime as sea ice melts, air temperatures warm, and the once permanently frozen ground gives way. The report is the product of 85 scientists from 12 different countries.

The 2017 Arctic Report Card, released Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in New Orleans, is no exception, with scientists warning that the magnitude and the pace of the 21st Century plunge in sea ice extent as well as the amount of ocean surface warming is unprecedented in at least the past 1,500 years.

SEE ALSO: Crucial Arctic monitoring satellites are blinking out just when we need them most

High-resolution Arctic paleo-reconstructions, based on 45 different “proxy” indicators, such as tree rings, sediment cores, and ancient air bubbles trapped in ice cores, permit scientists to trace sea ice extent back well before there were satellites monitoring the region.

“The Arctic shows no signs of returning to the reliably frozen state it was in just a few decades ago,” said Jeremy Mathis, who leads the Arctic program for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Image: Shutterstock / Nightman1965

“The Arctic is going through the most unprecedented transition in human history,” Mathis said. He explained that everyone in the U.S. and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere has a stake in what happens in the far north.

“We want every single American to know… these changes will impact all of our lives,” he added, citing climate refugees, extreme weather events, and higher food prices that have potential links to rapid Arctic climate change. Mathis said modeling studies increasingly show that there are links between sea ice loss in the Arctic, which changes the amount of heat and moisture in the air there, and extreme weather events that affect the U.S. and Europe, though he cautioned this research is not yet definitive.

According to the report, the Arctic had its second-warmest year on record in 2017, with an average annual air temperatures of 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit above the 1981 to 2010 average. Temperature data for the region dates back to 1900.

Surface air temperature anomalies in the Arctic during 2017.

Sea ice extent, which peaks in late winter, didn’t have much of a recovery after summer melting. The winter ice maximum was the lowest on record since satellite measurements began in 1979, the report says.

However, even with the sea ice entering the melt season in a precarious position, a relatively cool summer prevented Arctic sea ice from setting another record summer minimum, and also slowed Greenland melting, at least for a short time.

According to Emily Osborne, a report coauthor with the NOAA Arctic Research Program, 10 of the lowest sea ice minimums have occurred in the past 11 years.

Many scientists think the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free during the summer months within the next few decades, likely before 2050. One sign of this is that one-year-old ice, which melts easily, made up 79 percent of the Arctic sea ice in 2017, the report found. Older, thicker, multiyear ice comprised just 21 percent of the 2017 sea ice cover, compared to more than twice that in 1985.

Osborne cited data from 45 different indicators of sea ice extent dating back 1,500 years, such as tree rings and other so-called “proxy data,” showing that the recent plunge in sea ice extent is “unprecedented in the last 1500 years and likely longer.”

The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the globe, largely because of a process known as Arctic amplification. Through this process, warming air and sea temperatures melt sea ice, which exposes darker ocean waters to incoming sunlight. Since the ocean waters are less reflective than the ice, they absorb more heat, thereby warming the sea and air, and then, well, melting more ice.

In addition to this inherent feedback process in the region, there has been an increase in the amount of heat being transported into the Arctic Ocean from both the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans, scientists said.

Arctic sea ice extent in the past 1,500 years.

Image: NOAA Climate.gov; Kinnard et al., 2011

The loss of sea ice cover and increased exposure to sunlight has led to a boost in algae blooms and other biological activity in the marine food web, which could have profound implications for marine species.

There is also a growing concern regarding the melting of permanently frozen soil ringing the Arctic, known as permafrost.

As this melting occurs, more greenhouse gases are emitted, including methane, which is a shorter-lived but more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. This represents a positive feedback loop that could yield substantially more global warming, depending how much and how quickly permafrost melts.

For now, Vladimir Romanovsky, a researcher at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, said that in 2016, the majority of Arctic observing sites reported their highest permafrost temperatures on record, with the highest readings in Svalbard, Norway, as well as the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic.

One of the more remarkable aspects about the 2017 Arctic Report Card is that it came out at all. The Trump administration has been deleting climate change references from federal websites, reassigning climate scientists at some government agencies, and preventing scientists from speaking about climate change in public forums.

However, so far at least, NOAA has been relatively sheltered from this interference.  “The public should have high confidence in us,” said acting NOAA director Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet, who pointed out that NOAA continues to research and report on climate science, including with this comprehensive Arctic summary.

Gallaudet said he has briefed the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on the findings of the report.

“The White House is addressing it, acknowledging it, and factoring it into its agenda,” he said.

President Donald Trump is the first president in decades to go this long without a science advisor, who would head up OSTP and brief the president on the report’s findings.

Press link for more: Mashable.com

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#ClimateChange link to #CoralBleaching #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol

According to a new research report published today in a special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, the 2016 global average temperature and extreme heat wave over Asia occurred due to continued long-term climate change.

The report included research from NOAA scientists.

Additionally, climate change was found to have influenced other heat events in 2016, including the extreme heat in the Arctic, development of marine heat waves off Alaska and Australia, as well as the severity of the 2015-2016 El Nino, and the duration of coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef.

The sixth edition of Explaining Extreme Events from a Climate Perspective presents 27 peer-reviewed research papers that examine episodes of extreme weather across six continents and two oceans during 2016.

It features the research of 116 scientists from 18 countries — including five reports co-led by NOAA scientists — who analyzed historical observations and changing trends along with model results to determine whether and how climate change might have influenced an extreme event or shifted the odds of it occurring.

The findings

The new research found climate change increased the risk of wildfires in the western U.S., and the extreme rainfall experienced in China, along with South Africa’s drought and resultant food shortages.

Researchers found that climate change had reduced the likelihood of the cold outbreaks experienced in China and western Australia in 2016.

No conclusive link to climate change was found by scientists examining severe drought in Brazil, record rains in Australia, or stagnant conditions creating poor air quality in Europe.

In the report, 21 of the 27 papers in this edition identified climate change as a significant driver of an event, while six did not.

Of the 131 papers now examined in this report over the last six years, approximately 65 percent have identified a role for climate change, while about 35 percent have not found an appreciable effect.

There could be several reasons no climate signal was found by some papers; it might be that there were no changes in the frequency or severity for that type of event over time or that researchers weren’t able to detect changes using the available observational record or scientific tools and models available today.

Future studies could yield new insights on the climate’s influence on extreme weather.

More about the report

The BAMS annual report is designed to improve the scientific understanding of the drivers of extreme weather, provide insight into how the various weather extremes may be changing over time, and help community and business leaders better prepare for a rapidly changing world.

Press link for more: NOAA.GOV

Where is the food going to come from? #ClimateChange #auspol #qldpol #OnePlanet

This is the question everyone should be attending to – where is the food going to come from?

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 11th December 2017

Brexit; the crushing of democracy by billionaires; the next financial crash; a rogue US president: none of them keeps me awake at night. This is not because I don’t care – I care very much. It’s only because I have a bigger question on my mind. Where is the food going to come from?

By mid-century there will be two or three billion more people on Earth. Any one of the issues I am about to list could help precipitate mass starvation. And this is before you consider how they might interact.

The trouble begins where everything begins: with soil.

The UN’s famous projection that, at current rates of soil loss, the world has 60 years of harvests left, appears to be supported by a new set of figures.

Partly as a result of soil degradation, yields are already declining on 20% of the world’s croplands.

Now consider water loss.

In places such as the North China Plain, the central United States, California and north-western India – among the world’s critical growing regions – levels of the groundwater used to irrigate crops are already reaching crisis point. Water in the Upper Ganges aquifer, for example, is being withdrawn at 50 times its recharge rate. But, to keep pace with food demand, farmers in South Asia expect to use between 80 and 200% more water by 2050. Where will it come from?

The next constraint is temperature. One study suggests that, all else being equal, with each degree Celsius of warming the global yield of rice drops by 3%, wheat by 6% and maize by 7%. This could be optimistic. Research published in the journal Agricultural & Environmental Letters finds that 4°C of warming in the US Corn Belt could reduce maize yields by between 84 and 100%.

The reason is that high temperatures at night disrupt the pollination process. But this describes just one component of the likely pollination crisis. Insectageddon, caused by the global deployment of scarcely-tested pesticides, will account for the rest. Already, in some parts of the world, workers are now pollinating plants by hand. But that’s viable only for the most expensive crops.

Then there are the structural factors. Because they tend to use more labour, grow a wider range of crops and work the land more carefully, small farmers, as a rule, grow more food per hectare than large ones. In the poorer regions of the world, people with less than 5 hectares own 30% of the farmland but produce 70% of the food. Since 2000, an area of fertile ground roughly twice the size of the United Kingdom has been seized by land grabbers and consolidated into large farms, generally growing crops for export rather than the food needed by the poor.

While these multiple disasters unfold on land, the seas are being sieved of everything but plastic. Despite a massive increase in effort (bigger boats, bigger engines, more gear), the worldwide fish catch is declining by roughly 1% a year, as populations collapse. The global land grab is mirrored by a global seagrab: small fishers are displaced by big corporations, exporting fish to those who need it less but pay more. Around 3 billion people depend to a large extent on fish and shellfish protein. Where will it come from?

All this would be hard enough. But as people’s incomes increase, their diet tends to shift from plant protein to animal protein. World meat production has quadrupled in 50 years, but global average consumption is still only half that of the UK – where we eat roughly our bodyweight in meat every year – and just over a third of the US level. Because of the way we eat, the UK’s farmland footprint (the land required to meet our demand) is 2.4 times the size of its agricultural area. If everyone aspires to this diet, how do we accommodate it?

The profligacy of livestock farming is astonishing. Already, 36% of the calories grown in the form of grain and pulses – and 53% of the protein – are used to feed farm animals. Two-thirds of this food is lost in conversion from plant to animal. A graph produced last week by Our World in Data suggests that, on average, you need 0.01m2 of land to produce a gram of protein from beans or peas, but 1m2 to produce it from beef cattle or sheep: a difference of 100-fold.

It’s true that much of the grazing land occupied by cattle and sheep cannot be used to grow crops. But it would otherwise have sustained wildlife and ecosystems. Instead, marshes are drained, trees are felled and their seedlings grazed out, predators are exterminated, wild herbivores fenced out and other lifeforms gradually erased as grazing systems intensify. Astonishing places – such as the rainforests of Madagascar and Brazil – are laid waste to make room for yet more cattle.

Because there is not enough land to meet both need and greed, a global transition to eating animals means snatching food from the mouths of the poor. It also means the ecological cleansing of almost every corner of the planet.

The shift in diets would be impossible to sustain even if there were no growth in the human population. But the greater the number of people, the greater the hunger meat eating will cause. From a baseline of 2010, the UN expects meat consumption to rise by 70% by 2030 (this is three times the rate of human population growth). Partly as a result, the global demand for crops could double (from the 2005 baseline) by 2050. The land required to grow them does not exist.

When I say this keeps me up at night, I mean it. I am plagued by visions of starving people seeking to escape from grey wastes, being beaten back by armed police. I see the last rich ecosystems snuffed out, the last of the global megafauna – lions, elephants, whales and tuna – vanishing. And when I wake, I cannot assure myself that it was just a nightmare.

Other people have different dreams: the fantasy of a feeding frenzy that need never end, the fairytale of reconciling continued economic growth with a living world. If humankind spirals into societal collapse, these dreams will be the cause.

There are no easy answers, but the crucial change is a shift from an animal to a plant-based diet. All else being equal, stopping both meat production and the use of farmland to grow biofuels could provide enough calories for another 4 billion people and double the protein available for human consumption. Artificial meat will help: one paper suggests it reduces water use by at least 82% and land use by 99%.

The next Green Revolution will not be like the last one. It will rely not on flogging the land to death, but on reconsidering how we use it and why. Can we do this, or do we – the richer people now consuming the living planet – find mass death easier to contemplate than changing our diet?

http://www.monbiot.com

Press link for more: Monbiot.com

Cities have the power to lead #ClimateChange #auspol #qldpol #OnePlanet #StopAdani

Cities have the power to lead climate change

Cities, as hubs of innovation, now stand at the forefront of climate action

By CHRISTIANA FIGUERES, VICE-CHAIR OF THE GLOBAL COVENANT OF MAYORS 12/13/17, 9:38 AM CET

Christiana Figueres, vice-chair of the Global Covenant of Mayors | via Global Covenant of Mayors

Negotiating the Paris Agreement was a monumental achievement.

Nations rallied together and subnational actors, especially cities and local governments, afforded confidence that targets could be met, leading to swift approval and ratification.

As we lean into implementation, leaders in every corner of the world, in cities large and small, are taking bold climate action to ensure we are able to meet these commitments — and, importantly, take even more ambitious action.

However, for some local leaders, implementation of the Agreement comes with challenges. This is especially pertinent when it comes to obtaining the financial support needed to turn ideas into action and make the changes necessary to ensure they can help meet the goals set forth in Paris.

Luckily, one of the many successes of the Paris Agreement was the establishment of mechanisms to increase climate-friendly ideas and investment.

Cities, as hubs of innovation, now stand at the forefront of climate action, ready to accept these investments.

I am proud to serve as the vice-chair of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, an initiative that supports city leaders in meeting these commitments.

Together with our partner city networks both globally and locally, cities in this alliance are developing cutting-edge solutions to the challenges of climate finance.

They are providing critical leadership and support as national governments move towards a greener future.

The power these cities have to tackle climate change cannot be understated.

Mayors and local leaders often have greater influence over the sectors that most impact carbon emissions.

Buildings, transportation, water and waste are all complex systems, and city leaders’ in-depth knowledge of regional environmental landscapes means they are uniquely suited to pinpoint which areas need the most attention to reduce emissions while increasing sustainability and economic efficiency.

“We must see climate in every facet of the economy, from green buildings and infrastructure to sustainable agriculture, so that our growth will be climate neutral.”

Central to scaling timely global climate action is financing the development of modernized low carbon infrastructure.

We must see climate in every facet of the economy, from green buildings and infrastructure to sustainable agriculture, so that our growth will be climate neutral.

Investments in these priorities now will build the tomorrow we want our children to live in.

As cities work to accelerate the collective impact of their actions, improving city-level access to finance will increase investment flows into cities and other urban areas. It will unlock the potential of cities to be a fundamental part of the global climate solution. It will re-shape the economics of development and reinforce sustainable infrastructure as a stronger investment over high-carbon polluting options.

In Cape Town, this philosophy has been taken to heart as a number of new strategies are pursued to increase investments in our green future. Many climate and resilience solutions, such as renewable energy, green transportation and net-zero buildings, are less expensive to operate than they are to build, meaning it takes partnerships between governments and the private sector to finance them.

“Cape Town is poised to become the first city in Africa to install an electric bus system.”

For example, Cape Town is poised to become the first city in Africa to install an electric bus system. The MyCiTi bus system is an ambitious project and will be made possible by a public-private investment partnership and pay dividends to the city in the future. The strategic partnership goes beyond just buying buses: the buses, currently made by Chinese green energy firm BYD, will soon be manufactured at a new plant in Cape Town in 2018. The implementation of the MyCiTi bus system is not only increasing sustainability and helping to reduce carbon emissions, it is boosting the city’s economy and creating hundreds of jobs. This project will help Cape Town save money with reduced maintenance and operating costs while supporting the city’s ongoing journey to build a strong and prosperous green economy.

The city is also collaborating with the private sector to mitigate the dire effects of drought on Cape Town’s water supply. To accelerate emergency water projects, the city is issuing tax-exempt green bonds to private sector developers to incentivize developments that will enhance sustainability and improve water security. Thanks to the investment spurred by green bonds and other innovative strategies, a platform of climate security is being created from which the city’s future is wide open.

“The implementation of the MyCiTi bus system is not only increasing sustainability and helping to reduce carbon emissions, it is boosting the city’s economy and creating hundreds of jobs.”

Cities like Cape Town are helping to spur the global transformation that spells success for the Paris Agreement. By investing in sustainability and resilience now, we can guarantee not only stable returns for our private sector partners, but a stable future for our cities and the world.

Unlocking a sustainable path for cities allows them to accelerate their impact. By 2050, implementing sustainable urban infrastructure choices could save $17 trillion on energy costs alone.

Through initiatives like the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, over 7,400 cities around the world — 9.35 percent of the population — are showing their potential and making real progress to greatly accelerate the world’s achievements towards the legally binding global commitment to create a carbon neutral world this century.

Authors:

Christiana Figueres, Vice-Chair of the Global Covenant of Mayors

2016 Global Heatwaves due to Climate Change #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol #OnePlanet

Global heat waves in 2016 due purely to climate change: study

The findings mark the first time that global scientists have identified severe weather that could not have happened without climate change, said the peer-reviewed report titled “Explaining Extreme Events in 2016 from a Climate Perspective.”

Until now, the contribution of human-driven climate change has been understood to raise the odds of certain floods, droughts, storms and heat waves — but not serve as the sole cause.

“This report marks a fundamental change,” said Jeff Rosenfeld, editor-in-chief of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, which published the peer-reviewed report.

“For years scientists have known humans are changing the risk of some extremes. But finding multiple extreme events that weren’t even possible without human influence makes clear that we’re experiencing new weather, because we’ve made a new climate.”

The report included 27 peer-reviewed analyses of extreme weather across five continents and two oceans.

A total of 116 scientists from 18 countries took part, incorporating historical observations and model simulations to determine the role of climate change in nearly two dozen extreme events.

Records shattered

In 2016, the planet reached a new high for global heat, making it the warmest year in modern times.

These record average surface temperatures worldwide were “only possible due to substantial centennial-scale anthropogenic warming,” said the report.

Asia also experienced stifling heat, with India suffering a major heat wave that killed 580 people from March to May.

Thailand set a new record for energy consumption as people turned on air conditioners en masse to cool off.

Even though the tropical Pacific Ocean warming trend of El Nino was pronounced in 2015 and the first part of 2016, researchers concluded that it was not to blame.

“The 2016 extreme warmth across Asia would not have been possible without climate change,” said the report.

“Although El Nino was expected to warm Southeast Asia in 2016, the heat in the region was unusually widespread.”

In the Gulf of Alaska, the nearby Bering Sea, and off northern Australia, water temperatures were the highest in 35 years of satellite records.

This ocean warming led to “massive bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef and one of the largest harmful algal blooms ever off the Alaska shore,” according to the report.

“It was extremely unlikely that natural variability alone led to the observed anomalies.”

Another chapter found that the so-called “blob” of sub-Arctic 2016 warmth “cannot be explained without anthropogenic climate warming.”

Most, not all

Most of the extreme events studied were influenced to some extent by climate change, as in the past six years that the work has been published.

Climate change was found to have boosted the odds and intensity of El Nino, the severity of coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, and warmth in the North Pacific Ocean.

Flash droughts over southern Africa, like the one in 2015 and 2016, have tripled in the last 60 years mainly due to human-caused climate change, it said.

“Extreme rains, like the record-breaking 2016 event in Wuhan, China are 10 times more likely in the present climate than they were in 1961.”

The unusual Arctic warmth observed in November–December 2016 “most likely would not have been possible without human-caused warming,” it added.

But not all extreme weather was influenced by global warming.

About 20 percent of the events studied were not linked to human-caused climate change, including a major winter snowstorm in the Mid-Atlantic United States, and the drought that led to water shortages in northeast Brazil.

The findings were released at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in New Orleans.

Press link for more: SBS.COM.AU

Planetary Prosperity Means Zero Carbon #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol #OnePlanetSummit

PLANETARY PROSPERITY MEANS ZERO CARBON

DR.MATHIS WACKERNAGEL – CEO OF GLOBAL FOOTPRINT NETWORK on December 12, 2017

Mother Nature seems to be in full revolt.

A stone’s throw from the city of Oakland, where Global Footprint Network is based, the seasonal Diablo winds recently reached record intensity, fanning the worst fires that the famous wine-producing region of Napa has known, reducing to ashes vineyards and residential neighbourhoods, and pushing tens of thousands of inhabitants on the roads.

Now Santa Ana winds are wreaking similar havoc in Southern California, causing more evacuations and burning more structures.

On the other side of the continent, the Caribbean islands most affected by the hurricanes of the last weeks – Saint Martin, Saint Barthelemy and Puerto Rico in front – face a tremendous reconstruction project, needing to rebuild access to safe water and electricity.

The time is not for discouragement or defeatism.

More than ever, it is evident that every human community must do its utmost to keep pace with the planet that is hosting us.

The time for transformation is now.

Humanity is not idle.

The root causes are recognized.

On December 12, we celebrate the two-year anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement, when world leaders came together to commit to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius and strive for 1.5 degrees.

Although President Donald Trump has withdrawn from the agreement, leaders around the world are standing firm.

In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, and UN Secretary António Guterres will gather at the One Planet Summit on December 12 to call for concrete action.

Similarly, I am among 31 Blue Planet Laureates who not only want to mark this important anniversary but also remind the world that the climate agreement is achievable and desirable.

We have summarized our position as follows:

Planetary Prosperity Means Zero Carbon

The resource hunger of the human enterprise has become too large for our planet.

The Paris Climate Agreement recognizes this. It aims to limit global warming to less than 2°C above the preindustrial level.

This means ceasing fossil-fuel use before 2050, increasing ecosystem and biodiversity conservation, and improving human well-being.

We, Blue Planet Laureates, wholeheartedly and emphatically support this transformation.

It is technologically possible, economically beneficial, and our best chance for a prosperous future.

Our planet is finite. But human possibilities are not. The transformation will succeed if we apply people’s greatest strengths: foresight, innovation, and care for each other.

Examples across the globe show positive results.

Cities like Zurich, Curitiba, Malmö, Masdar, and Reykjavik have shown leadership. Regions have taken charge, including California, where Gov. Jerry Brown will convene the Global Action Climate Summit next year.

China has made creating an Ecological Civilization in harmony with nature a priority in its latest 5-year plan.

France and the UK have announced the end of fossil fuel cars by 2040, and Tesla surpassed General Motors earlier this year to become the most valuable US auto maker – without ever building a gasoline-powered car.

Other companies such as Schneider Electric thrive on driving down their clients’ carbon emissions and costs. Achieving Paris is possible.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges of this transformation is sparking the imagination of people around the world and making them realize that a zero-carbon world is much more likely to secure long-term prosperity than continuing our destructive path.

We also need to start to recognize that this transformation primarily builds on foresight and innovation, not sacrifice and suffering.

Even with the UN projecting world population growth of 13 percent by 2030 and 28 percent by 2050, flourishing lives on this one planet are possible through walkable cities that are renewably powered and sustainably fed.

Encouraging smaller families and empowering women around the world will also produce immediate positive health and educational outcomes for those families.

Such steps will also substantially reduce the carbon footprint and ease the resource budget for each country in the long run. Indeed, ‘family planning’ and ‘educating girls’ rank sixth and seventh in Project Drawdown’s ranking of solutions to reverse global warming.

We stand for one-planet prosperity. ‘One planet’ means that we recognize the physical context of our economies. ‘Prosperity’ means that we choose flourishing lives over misery. Will you join us?

Press link for more: Impakter.com

One Planet 🌍 #auspol #qldpol #climatechange #StopAdani

Climate Change is our greatest challenge it’s a race against time, and we’re losing.

Australia & the United States should be leading the world.

Instead we continue to invest in fossil fuels and refuse to put a price on carbon pollution.

Corporations have corrupted our democracies.

Our children & future generations will pay for our greed & negligence.

Nature’s Shock & Awe for The U.S #ClimateChange #auspol #StopAdani

Shock and awe. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is meant to be, in Southern California, the start of rainy season.

Not this year.

The Thomas Fire, the worst of those roiling the region this last week, grew 50,000 acres on Sunday alone; it has now burnt 270 square miles and forced 200,000 people from their homes.

There is no rain forecast for the next seven to ten days, and as of Monday morning, Thomas is just, in the terrifying semi-clinical language of wildfires, “10% contained.” To a poetic approximation, it’s not a bad estimate of how much of a handle we have on the forces of climate change that unleashed it — which is to say, hardly any.

“The city burning is Los Angeles’s deepest image of itself,” Joan Didion wrote in “Los Angeles Notebook,” collected in Slouching Towards Bethlehem. But the cultural impression is apparently not all that deep, since the fires that broke out last week produced, in headlines and on television and via text messages, an astonished refrain of the adjectives “unthinkable,” “unprecedented,” and “unimaginable.”

Didion was writing about the fires that had swept through Malibu in 1956, Bel Air in 1961, Santa Barbara in 1964, and Watts in 1965; she updated her list in “Fire Season (1989),” describing the fires of 1968, 1970, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1980, and 1982: “Since 1919, when the county began keeping records of its fires, some areas have burned eight times.”

We could use further updating: Five of the 20 worst fires in California history have now hit since just September, when 245,000 acres in Northern California burned — devastation so cruel and sweeping that two different accounts were published in two different local newspapers of two different aging couples taking desperate cover in pools as the fires swallowed their homes.

One couple survived, emerging after six excruciating hours to find their house transformed into an ash monument; in the other, it was only the husband who emerged, his wife of 55 years having died in his arms. As Americans traded horror stories in the aftermath of those fires, they could be forgiven for mixing the stories up or being confused; that climate terror could be so general as to provide variations on such a theme seemed, as recently as September, impossible to believe.

But if last week’s wildfires were not unprecedented, what did we mean when we called them that?

Like September 11, which followed several decades of morbid American fantasies about the World Trade Center, the brushfires that began last week north of Santa Paula look to a horrified public like a climate prophecy, made in fear, now made real.

That prophecy was threefold.

First, the simple intuition of climate horrors — an especially biblical premonition when the plague is out-of-control fire, like a dust storm of flame.

Second, of the expanding reach of wildfires in particular, which now can feel, in much of the West, like a gust of bad wind away, and never impossible no matter the time of year.

Over the last few decades, the wildfire season has already grown by two months, and by 2050, destruction from wildfires is expected to double (for every additional degree of global warming, it will quadruple).

But perhaps the most harrowing of the ways in which the fires seemed to confirm our cinematic nightmares was the third: that climate chaos could breach our most imperious fortresses — that is, our cities.

With Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, Irma, Americans have gotten acquainted with the threat of flooding, but water is just the beginning.

In the affluent cities of the West, even those conscious of environmental change have spent the last few decades believing that, and behaving as though, we had — with our street grids, our highways, our superabundant supermarkets and all-everywhere, all-enveloping internet — built our way out of nature.

We have not.

A paradise dreamscape erected in a barren desert, L.A. has always been an impossible city, as Mike Davis, among many others, has so brilliantly written.

The sight of flames straddling the eight-lane 405 is a reminder that it is still impossible.

In fact, getting more so.

One response to seeing things long predicted actually come to pass is to feel that we have settled into a new era, with everything transformed.

In fact, that is how Governor Jerry Brown described the state of things this weekend: “a new normal.”

The fact that the news cycle has already moved on, while the fires are just as out of control, is another sign of our eagerness to normalize these horrors — or at least to look away.

But normalization is problematic, as perversely comforting as it may feel to think we’ve settled into a familiar nightmare.

Climate change is not binary, and we have not now arrived at a new equilibrium; as I’ve written before, the climate suffering we are seeing now is a “beyond best case” scenario for our future.

With each further tick upward in global temperatures — each tiny tick — the effects will worsen.

And further ticks are inevitable; the question is only how many.

It would be much more accurate to say that we have passed beyond the end of normal, into a new realm unbounded by the analogy of any human experience.

But two big forces conspire to prevent us from normalizing fires like these, though neither is exactly a cause for celebration.

The first is that extreme weather won’t let us, since it won’t stabilize — so that even within a decade, it’s a fair bet that these fires will be thought of as the “old normal.”

Whatever you may think about the pace of climate change, it is happening mind-bendingly fast, almost in real time.

It is not just that December wildfires were unheard of just three decades ago.

We have now emitted more carbon into the atmosphere since Al Gore wrote his first book on climate than in the entire preceding history of humanity, which means that we have engineered most of the climate chaos that now terrifies us in that brief span.

The second force is also contained in the story of the wildfires — the way that climate change is finally striking close to home.

Striking, in fact, some quite special homes: Last Thursday, for instance, there were reports that the fires were threatening the Getty Museum in Pacific Palisades and Rupert Murdoch’s Bel-Air estate.

There may not be two better symbols of the imperiousness of American money than the Getty villa, a San Simeon built on the pure blue Pacific with Texas oil money laundered through art philanthropy; and the nearby toy vineyard of climate-change-denier Rupert Murdoch, built on some of the most expensive real estate in the country.

One imagines that Murdoch will not be writing tweets like this one again anytime soon; then again, who knows?

When, on Thursday, I tweeted that NBC News was reporting that Murdoch’s vineyard was on fire, it immediately spawned a thread of gleeful, crowing responses, more than a thousand of them. But, of course, his property and the Getty were not being singled out; they were fighting off flames because the entire rest of the county was, too, and — no matter how well-equipped or well-defended or well-heeled they were — having just as much trouble. Which is, as uncomfortable as it may be to admit, a very useful allegory for the rest of us to keep in mind.

By accidents of geography and by the force of its wealth, the United States has, to this point, been mostly protected from the devastation climate change has already visited on parts of the less-developed world — mostly.

The condition of Puerto Rico, nearly three months after Hurricane Irma hit, is a harrowing picture of what climate devastation can do to the least among us. That it is now hitting our wealthiest citizens is not just an opportunity for ugly bursts of liberal Schadenfreude; it is also a sign of just how hard, and how indiscriminately, it is hitting. The wealthy used to build castles to defend themselves against the world; more recently it’s been a more modern kind of fortress, cities, enclosing more and more of us in an illusion of man-made security. All of a sudden, it’s getting a lot harder to protect against what’s coming.

Erik Solheim: My vision for a pollution-free planet #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol

By Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment

For too long, the relationship between prosperity and environment has been seen as a trade-off. Tackling pollution was considered an unwelcome cost on industry and a handicap to economic growth.

But global trends are demonstrating that this is no longer the case. It’s now clear that sustainable development is the only form of development that makes sense, including in financial and economic terms. The drive towards a pollution-free planet provides an opportunity to innovate and become more competitive.

With the UN Environment Assembly just over a month away, we now have the opportunity to dramatically step up our ambitions.

The energy revolution currently unfolding is a game changer, as is the increased mobilization around climate. The rapidly falling cost of energy from renewable sources, such as wind and solar power, means that the countries leading the shift away from fossil fuels will reap the greatest benefits to their economies, as well as their environments. These countries will have better, faster transport networks and more flexible power grids.

With the transition to green and sustainable development under way, we now need to focus on how to intensify and accelerate these trends in order to protect the environment, combat climate change and curb pollution. As I see it, there are five critical pieces to this puzzle:

We need political leadership and partnerships. A global compact on pollution would ensure sustained engagement at the highest level and make prevention a priority for all. It would also encourage policymakers and other key partners, including the private sector, to integrate prevention into national and local planning, development processes, and business and finance strategies.

We need the right policies. Environmental governance needs to be strengthened – with targeted action on “hard-hitting” pollutants through risk assessments and enhanced implementation of environmental legislation, including multilateral environmental agreements, and other measures.

We need a new approach to managing our lives and economies. Sustainable consumption and production, through improved resource efficiency and lifestyle changes, should be promoted. Waste reduction and management must be prioritized.

We need to invest big. Mobilizing finance and investment in low-carbon opportunities and cleaner production and consumption will drive innovation and help to counter pollution. Increased funding is also needed for research, pollution monitoring, infrastructure, management and control.

We need advocacy for action. Citizens need to be informed and inspired to reduce their own pollution footprint and advocate for bold pollution-beating commitments from the public and private sectors.

With the UN Environment Assembly just over a month away, we now have the opportunity to dramatically step up our ambitions. Science is delivering great advances in our understanding of pollution and its impacts on people, economies and the environment. Citizens are more aware than ever before of how pollution affects their lives and they are demanding action on what has become a critical public health issue. At the same time, experts and businesses are developing the technology to tackle these problems at all scales, from local to global. Financiers are increasingly ready to support them, while international bodies and forums, including the United Nations, stand ready to help to channel this momentum and turn it into firm action.

The responsibility for driving change on this broad front is shared among and within nations. Government policies and programmes will play a central role, both nationally and internationally. Businesses, consumers, investors, community groups and thought leaders must also be fully involved if we are to succeed. Technology and economic innovation are key, as is mobilizing finance at scale. Investments need to be harnessed to address climate and pollution challenges.

My report to the UN Environment Assembly examines the dimensions of pollution and identifies a way forward through a framework for action. I invite our partners in government, business, and civil society, as well as citizens around the world, to consider the report, act on its recommendations, and join us in the fight to beat pollution around the world.

Press link for more: UN Environment.Org

#BeatPollution

#ClimateChange takes toll on housing market. #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani

Climate change starts to take its toll on housing market

David Leitch

Source: publichealthwatch

Money talks; BS walks

If there is one thing Australians can relate to its house prices.

There is a lot of coastal real estate.

This research discussed below is, to make a pun, “ground breaking”.

It shows how a large sample of people are demonstrating their core climate beliefs in the largest investment decision many of them will ever make.

Politicians can say what they like.

Scientists should take huge heart from papers such as this because it shows that property buyers and sellers are listening to them.

In my opinion, the most important work that needs to be done in climate change is showing what its impacts will be on the world.

We are long past having to prove that climate change is real and we need to be preparing for next year’s battles and not re-fighting the last war.

I’d like to thank Kate Mackenzie director, finance, policy & decision metrics at Climate-KIC Australia for drawing attention to this paper. Way to go.

“Disaster on the horizon: The price effect of sea level rise”

That’s the title of an SLR paper  published by Bernstein, Gustafson & Lewis.

The headline conclusion is that homes exposed to sea level rise [SLR] sell at a 7 per cent discount relative to observable equivalent unexposed properties equidistant from the beach. This discount has grown over time.

I am mostly just going to quote paragraphs, as it is a well written report and the conclusions come through loud and clear.

“Our first contribution is to show that properties exposed to projected SLR sell at around a 7% discount relative to otherwise similar properties (e.g. same zip, time, distance to coast, elevation, bedrooms, property and owner type), which we show implies very similar time frames for rising sea levels as the medium to highly pessimistic scientific forecasts. This effect is primarily driven by properties unlikely to be inundated for over half a century, suggesting that it is driven by investors pricing long horizon concerns about SLR costs.

Moreover, the same discount does not exist in rental rates, indicating that this discount is due to expectations of future damage, not current property quality……Finally, we show that the SLR exposure discount has increased substantially over the past decade, coinciding with both increased awareness and more pessimistic prognoses about the extent and speed of rising oceans. In particular, we document increased transaction volume and lower prices for sophisticated buyers following the significant revisions of the IPCC’s 2013 release, which increased SLR projects and awareness”

Emphasis added

Comment: An analyst might suggest that a 7 per cent discount is excessive, given the 50-year time horizon. People overvalue the risk.  Still people also overpay on tollroads in the sense that the time saved compared to the toll implies a high value for time and a willingness to pay a premium to avoid inconvenience.

480,000 property sales analysed

“Our main test sample contains over 480,000 sales of residential properties within 0.25 miles of the coast between 2007 and 2016. In our baseline analyses, we define any property that would be inundated at highest high tide with a 6 foot global average SLR to be exposed…….

….We further break this into exposure buckets, with properties that will experience ocean encroachment after 1 foot of global average sea level rise trading at a 22%, 2-3 feet at a 17% discount, 4-5 feet at a 9% discount and 6 feet at a 6% discount.4 Using the long run discount rate provided by Giglio et al. (2014) and assuming complete loss at the onset of inundation, we estimate that markets expect 1 foot of sea level rise within 35 years, 2-3 feet within 45 years, 4-5 feet after 65 years, and 6 feet in 80 years. These results are consistent with the medium to high projections provided in Parris et al. (2012) and utilized by the NOAA in their 2012 report.”

Comment: What a fantastic piece of research. Any investment bank research team would win awards for coming up with this evidence.

At the beginning of our sample in 2007 we find no significant difference between the prices of exposed and unexposed properties. By the end of our sample in 2016, exposed non-owner occupied properties are priced approximately 13.5% below comparable unexposed properties.

Press link for more: Reneweconomy.com