Fossil Fuels

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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Eating the Earth. #auspol #qldpol Food for thought #StopAdani

A rough transcript of my speech at the Oxford Farmers’ Conference debate, on the motion “This House Believes Eating Meat Will Be A Thing of the Past by 2100”

By George Monbiot, delivered at the Oxford Union, 4th January 2018

I always speak without notes, so this is not a verbatim transcript. But these are the notes I more or less memorised. You can watch the video of the debate here

I know that what I’m about to say is as welcome as a Jehovah’s Witness at the door during the World Cup Final.

We don’t expect to win the vote tonight. But I would ask you to try to judge this case on its merits, rather than on how it might affect your own immediate interests, difficult as this might be.

The reason I’m standing here now is that in 2017 I had a realisation. It is that climate breakdown is only the third most urgent of the environmental crises we face. This is not because it has become less urgent, but because two other issues have emerged as even more pressing. They are the ecological cleansing of both land and sea to produce the food we eat.

The speed and scale of change beggars belief. All over the world, habitats and species are collapsing before our eyes. The world population of wild vertebrates – animals with backbones – has fallen by 60% since 1970.

Animals that until recently seemed safe – ranging from lions to house sparrows – are now in danger.

Insect populations are collapsing, with untold implications for both human beings and the rest of the food chain.

Soil is being stripped from the land. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, at current rates of soil loss, the world has just 60 years of harvests left.

Ground water is being drained so rapidly that some of the world’s most important aquifers are likely to disappear within a generation.

We are facing an existential crisis. And it is caused, in large part, by the unsustainable ways in which we feed ourselves.

If we are to prevent both ecological meltdown and mass starvation, we must take these issues seriously – very seriously indeed – and address them as effectively and quickly as possible.

While there is no single solution, by far the biggest one is switching from an animal-based to a plant-based diet.

Why? Because a plant-based diet requires less land and fewer resources.

When we feed animals on crops, we greatly reduce the number of people that an area of cropland can support. This is because, on average, around two-thirds of the food value of the crops fed to livestock is lost in conversion from plant to animal.

This is why the UK has a farmland footprint over twice the size of its agricultural area. We eat, on average, our bodyweight in meat each year, and we cannot do that within our own borders. We rely on other people to feed us.

With a growing world population and the rapid degradation of farmland, feeding animals on food that humans could eat is a luxury the world simply cannot afford.

Of course, there’s a second way of producing livestock: allowing them to find their own food, in a field or range. The problem here is that while we are not competing with other forms of food production, we are competing, massively, with the rest of the living world.

Grazing is an astonishingly wasteful system. It arguably has the highest ratio of destruction to production of any industry on Earth. Huge areas of land, that could otherwise support rich ecosystems and wildlife, are used to produce an appreciable amount of meat.

Let me give you a couple of figures to illustrate this.

Roughly twice as much of the world’s surface is used for grazing as for growing crops, yet animals fed entirely on pasture produce just 1 gram out of the 81 g of protein consumed per person per day.

Sheep in this country occupy roughly 4m ha – more or less equivalent to all the arable and horticultural land in the UK. Yet they produce just 1.2% of the calories we consume here.

Gareth is a lovely man, and entirely sincere. He will tell you about the Carneddau ponies on his land, the birds and the flowers, and he will do it beautifully. But what you see in the sheep pastures of Britain is a mere remnant of an ecosystem. A thriving living system contains large predators. A healthy stock of wild herbivores. A rich mosaic of vegetation. The land where Gareth farms would most likely, were it not for sheep grazing, be covered in Atlantic rainforest, punctuated by pockets of other habitats: a system many times more diverse than the one that prevails there today.

Around the world, 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 farm animals.

In an age of ecological collapse, this is an astonishing extravagance, which I believe is unjustified.

An analysis by the livestock farmer Simon Fairlie suggests that were we to switch to a plant-based diet in Britain, we could feed all the people of this country on just 3m of our 18m hectares of farmland. Alternatively, we could use the land here to feed 200m people. In a world threatened by starvation and ecological collapse, it seems perverse to do otherwise.

I don’t blame livestock farmers for this any more than I blame coal miners for the problems with coal. They are simply trying to survive, and God knows it’s hard enough. But the nature of this production is simply incompatible with a prosperous future for humanity. I would like to see people in Gareth’s position paid from the public purse to restore nature. And with his energy and enthusiasm, I’m sure he would be brilliant at it.

So far I’ve been considering whether meat should be a thing of the past by 2100. But the motion asks whether meat will be a thing of the past by 2100.

And the answer, again, is yes.

The reason is simple: technological change.

It might seem obscure and marginal today, just as the motorcar did in 1880 and the personal computer did in 1970, but cultured meat is coming as inexorably as those technologies.

Today, like all technologies in their infancy, it is extremely expensive

In two decades it will be merely expensive

In about four decades, it is likely to reach cost parity with processed meat.

And, like everything that can be mass produced, the price will keep falling.

It will do what the motorcar did to the horse and carriage

And the telephone did to the telegram

And the computer did to the typewriter

And in doing so it will become entirely normal.

When that happens, we will see something that has also happened many times before: technological change creating an ethical tipping point.

When hydrocarbons provided a substitute for whale oil, we began asking ourselves why we were killing these magnificent beasts.

When automation undercut child labour, we started wondering why children were working in factories.

When there is a cheaper and kinder alternative, what was permissible becomes unacceptable.

Researchers at this university have shown that cultured meat will reduce water use by at least 82% and land use by 99%. This is because it is made of plant protein, not animal protein.

It will relieve the pressure on the living planet, allowing habitats and species to flourish once more. It will reduce the pressure on world food supplies, enabling everyone to be fed.

So will meat eating by 2100 be a thing of the past? It should be. And it will be.

Thank you.

http://www.monbiot.com

Press link for more: Monbiot.com

#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

Coal killed 169,000 Indians in 2015. #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani #AirPollution

Household burning, coal combustion behind 75% deaths

IANS

Exposure to household burning emissions and coal combustion were the main reasons behind 75 per cent of air pollution-related deaths in India in 2015 which came chiefly from rural areas, reveals a report.

The report, by experts from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)- Bombay and the US-based Health Effects Institute, found that residential biomass fuel burning contributed to some 268,000 deaths in 2015 and coal combustion from both thermal electric power plants and industry contributed to 169,000 deaths.

Anthropogenic dusts contributed to 100,000 deaths; agricultural burning to 66,000 deaths; and transport, diesel, and kilns were behind over 65,000 deaths in India.

“This systematic analysis of emissions from all sources and their impact on ambient air pollution exposure found significant contributions from regional sources (like residential biomass, agricultural residue burning and industrial coal), underlying that from local sources (like transportation and brick kilns),” said Chandra Venkataraman from IIT-Bombay.

According to the 2015 Global Burden of Disease analysis, these levels contribute to over 10 per cent of all Indian deaths each year.

The premature mortality, attributed to air pollution, contributed to over 29 million healthy years of life lost.

Overall, air pollution contributed to nearly 1.1 million deaths in 2015, with the burden falling disproportionately (75 per cent) on rural areas.

The 2017 Global Burden of Disease identified air pollution, both outdoors and in households, as the second most serious risk factor for public health in India, after malnutrition, contributing to 6.4 per cent of all healthy years of life lost in 2016.

India has some of the highest levels of outdoor air pollution in the world,” the researchers wrote in the “Special Report 21, Burden of Disease Attributable to Major Air Pollution Sources in India”.

“The most comprehensive air pollution estimates available from both satellite and Indian ground-level measurements of fine particulate matter indicate that 99.9 per cent of the Indian population is estimated to live in areas where the World Health Organisation Air Quality Guideline for fine particulate matter was exceeded in 2015, contributing to some 1.1 million deaths in India in 2015.”

This new study provides the first comprehensive assessment conducted in India to understand exposures at national and state levels from all major sources of particulate-matter air pollution (particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter of less than 2.5 µm, or PM2.5).

It takes advantage of enhanced satellite data and India’s growing network of air pollution monitors, and is the first to estimate the exposure from different air pollution sources state by state throughout India.

Press link for more: Business Standard

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

#ClimateChange “All Hell will break loose!” #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol

When will we listen to the scientists?

To invest in new coal mines and ignore science is Criminal Negligence.

It is putting our children and future generations at extreme risk.

People all over the planet are demanding change.

We must declare a CLIMATE EMERGENCY

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

Rising Seas Could Shrink Australia #auspol #ClimateChange #StopAdani

How rising sea levels could shrink Australia and spark a coastal exodus

By Sean Ulm, Alan Williams, Chris Turney and Stephen Lewis

PHOTO Australia’s coastline has moved before thanks to changes in sea level.Flickr: Travellers Travel Photobook, CC BY 2.0

With global sea levels expected to rise by up to a metre by 2100, we can learn much from archaeology about how people coped in the past with changes in sea level.

In a study published this week in Quaternary Science Reviews, we looked at how changes in sea level affected different parts of Australia and the impact on people living around the coast.

The study casts new light on how people adapt to rising sea levels of the scale projected to happen in our near future.

Living on the coast

More than eight out of every 10 Australians live within 50 kilometres of the coast.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says global sea levels are set to increase by the equivalent of 12 millimetres per year, four times the average of the last century.

A major challenge for managing such a large increase in sea level is our limited understanding of what impact this scale of change might have on humanity.

While there are excellent online resources to model the local physical impacts of sea level rise, the recent geological past can provide important insights into how humans responded to dramatic increases in sea level.

The last ice age

At the height of the last ice age some 21,000 years ago, not only were the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets larger than they are today, but three-kilometre-high ice sheets covered large parts of North America and northern Europe.

This sucked vast amounts of water out of our planet’s oceans. The practical upshot was the sea level was about 125 metres lower, making the shape of the world’s coastlines distinctly different to today.

As the world lurched out of the last ice age with increasing temperatures, the melting ice returned to the ocean as freshwater, dramatically increasing sea levels and altering the surface of our planet.

Arguably nowhere experienced greater changes than Australia, a continent with a broad continental shelf and a rich archaeological record spanning tens of millennia.

A bigger landmass

For most of human history in Australia, lower sea levels joined mainland Australia to both Tasmania and New Guinea, forming a supercontinent called Sahul.

The Gulf of Carpentaria hosted a freshwater lake more than twice the size of Tasmania (about 190,000 square kilometres).

Our study shows that lower sea levels resulted in Australia growing by almost 40 per cent during this time — from the current landmass of 7.2 million square kilometres to 9.8 million square kilometres.

The coastlines also looked very different, with steep profiles off the edge of the exposed continental shelf in many areas forming precipitous slopes and cliffs.

Imagine the current coastline where the Twelve Apostles are on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road and then extend them around much of the continent.

Many rivers flowed across the exposed shelf to the then distant coast.

The 12 Apostles Great ocean road Victoria

When things warmed up

Then between 18,000 and 8,000 years ago, global climate warmed, leading to rapid melting of the ice sheets, and seeing sea levels in the Australian region rising from 125 metres below to two metres above modern sea levels.

Tasmania was cut off with the flooding of Bass Strait about 11,000 years ago. New Guinea was separated from Australia with the flooding of Torres Strait and creation of the Gulf of Carpentaria around 8,000 years ago.

We found that 2.12 million square kilometres, or 20–29 per cent of the landmass — a size comparable to the state of Queensland — was lost during this inundation.

The location of coastlines changed on average by 139 kilometres inland. In some areas the change was more than 300 kilometres.

Much of this inundation occurred over a 4,000-year period (between 14,600 and 10,600 years ago) initiated by what is called Meltwater Pulse 1A, a period of substantial ice sheet collapse releasing millions of cubic litres of water back into the oceans.

During this period, sea levels rose by 58 metres, equivalent to 14.5 millimetres per year. On the ground, this would have seen movement of the sea’s edge at a pace of about 20–24 metres per year.

Impacts of past sea level rise

The potential impacts of these past sea-level changes on Aboriginal populations and societies have long been a subject of speculation by archaeologists and historians.

Photo: Map of Australia showing sea-level change and archaeological sites for selected periods between 35,000 and 8,000 years ago. (Supplied: Sean Ulm)

In his 1970s book Triumph of the Nomads: A History of Aboriginal Australia, the Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey hypothesised that:

“Most tribal groups on the coast 18,000 years ago must have slowly lost their entire territory […] a succession of retreats must have occurred. The slow exodus of refugees, the sorting out of peoples and the struggle for territories probably led to many deaths as well as new alliances.”

Archaeologists have long recognised that Aboriginal people would have occupied the now-drowned continental shelves surrounding Australia, but opinions have been divided about the nature of occupation and the significance of sea-level rise.

Most have suggested that the ancient coasts were little-used or underpopulated in the past.

Our data shows Aboriginal populations were severely disrupted by sea-level change in many areas.

Perhaps surprisingly the initial decrease in sea level prior to the peak of the last ice age resulted in people largely abandoning the coastline, and heading inland, with a number of archaeological sites within the interior becoming established at this time.

During the peak of the last ice age, there is evidence on the west coast that shows people continued to use marine resources (shellfish, fish etc) during this time, albeit at low levels.

Photo: Fish traps at Oyster Harbour, near Albany. (Supplied: South Coast NRM)

A shrinking landmass

With the onset of the massive inundation after the end of the last ice age, people evacuated the coasts causing markedly increased population densities across Australia (from about 1 person for every 355 square kilometres 20,000 years ago, to 1 person every 147 square kilometres 10,000 years ago).

Rising sea levels had such a profound impact on societies that Aboriginal oral histories from around the length of the Australian coastline preserve details of coastal flooding and the migration of populations.

We argue that this squeezing of people into a landmass 22 per cent smaller — into inland areas that were already occupied — required people to adopt new social, settlement and subsistence strategies.

This may have been an important element in the development of the complex geographical and religious landscape that European explorers observed in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Following the stabilisation of the sea level after 8,000 years ago, we start to see the onset of intensive technological investment and manipulation of the landscape (such as fish traps and landscape burning).

We also see the formation of territories (evident by marking of place through rock art) that continues to propagate up until the present time. All signs of more people trying to survive in less space.

So what are the lessons of the past for today? Thankfully, we can show that past societies survived rapid sea level change at rates slightly greater than those projected in our near future, albeit with population densities far lower than today.

But we can also see that sea level rise resulted in drastic changes to where people lived, how they survived, what technology they used, and probable modifications to their social, religious and political ways of life.

In today’s world with substantially higher population densities, managing the relocation of people inland and outside Australia, potentially across national boundaries, may provide to be one of the great social challenges of the 21st century.

Sean Ulm is deputy director at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, James Cook University.

Alan N Williams is an associate investigator at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, UNSW.

Chris Turney is chief investigator at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, UNSW.

Stephen Lewis is principal research officer at James Cook University.

Originally published in The Conversation

Press link for more: ABC.NET.AU

#ClimateChange is first & foremost a threat to human society. #StopAdani #auspol

By Ryan Cooper

NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT

Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at TheWeek.com.

His work has appeared in the Washington Monthly, The New Republic, and the Washington Post.

Climate change is first and foremost a threat to human society.

That fact has been somewhat obscured in regular discourse, in favor of a false dichotomy portraying climate policy as an upper-middle-class noblesse oblige idea for anxious birders and other environmentalist types, and hardheaded economists who think building up yet more wealth is more important.

In reality, one obvious way that threat to humanity is going to be expressed is through economic damage.

In other words, unchecked climate change is going to be terrifically expensive.

Now, its exact cost is basically impossible to predict.

Contrary to people who would confidently rely on cost damage estimates for 2100, economic projections tend to be wildly inaccurate over even five years.

Furthermore, the amount of damage will depend greatly on what humans do in the future, and there have been few studies on what damage would be like under higher warming scenarios of 3 degrees or above.

But we can say the damage is going to be very large — indeed, it’s already quite bad.

NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information estimates that 2017 was America’s most expensive year for climate disasters of all time, with 16 disasters costing over $1 billion (more than three times the 1980-2017 average, after accounting for inflation) and a total cost of over $300 billion. That’s about 1.5 percent of total GDP — or enough to pay for a $300 per month child allowance for every parent in America, with some left over.

This year is already off to a bad climate start as well.

There is a severe precipitation shortfall in parts of the Southwest, with some Colorado drainages at less than 30 percent of the median snowpack. Southern California has also been rather dry — with the exception of severe rains that hammered parts of the region over the last few days, causing flooding and multiple mudslides that have killed at least 20 people.

Even the blizzard that recently struck the Northeast may have been influenced by climate change. Contrary to the notions of President Trump, who appears to believe that climate science predicts it will never be cold again anywhere at any time, it seems warming disrupts the “polar vortex,” or the belt of cold air that circles around the poles of the Earth.

With a weak polar vortex, frigid Arctic air can make it further south than usual — while warmer air can make it further north, leading to the paradoxical result of Anchorage occasionally being warmer than New York, or even Jacksonville.

The dramatic and rapid increase in climate damages over the last decade suggests that disasters may increase nonlinearly with warming — that is, a doubling of greenhouse gas concentrations might lead to more than twice the quantity of disasters.

The only way to be sure about that is after the fact, but it’s still wise to assume it might be true, due to the larger downside risk.

If not, then we have decarbonized our society more rapidly than we might otherwise have. But if it is true and we don’t take action, the result could be catastrophic.

Now, a few caveats are in order.

First, of course we cannot say with ironclad certainty that these weather disasters are 100 percent caused by climate change, because climate change isn’t the sort of phenomenon that causes individual events.

What we can say is that these are just exactly the sort of weather disasters that are predicted to become more common and worse as the planet continues to warm.

Don’t let careerist debate pedants mix you up on this point. (And in fact, preliminary work on Hurricane Harvey found that climate change significantly increased its amount of rainfall.)

Second, expense is a highly problematic metric for measuring the overall world damage to climate change.

The countries most vulnerable to climate change are generally poor, and so devastating climate disasters aren’t going to show up as costing very much in dollar terms.

Indeed, by far the worst disasters of 2017 happened outside the United States.

As Rachel Cleetus at the Union of Concerned Scientists notes, over 11,000 people were killed by weather disasters in 2017, including 2,700 in South Asia — as against perhaps 1,400 or so in the United States (the vast majority in Puerto Rico).

Nevertheless, climate disasters really are going to be hugely expensive for the United States — and not just in dollar terms.

For example, the refusal from President Trump and the Republican Congress to properly rebuild Puerto Rico has not just killed probably over 1,000 people, it has also led to a severe shortage of IV bags, no doubt killing many more.

It drives home the fact that dawdling on climate policy, as Democrats did when they had majorities in 2009-10 — or denying it’s even necessary, as virtually every person of consequence in the Republican Party does — is not going to be some profitable venture. Poor countries will be hit worse, but American cities will be wrecked, much critical infrastructure will be destroyed, and many insurance companies and programs will be bankrupted. It will require endless expensive bailouts and reconstruction packages simply to stay ahead of the damage.

Conversely, the faster we move on climate policy, the cheaper it will be.

The International Energy Agency has roughly estimated that every year of delay adds $500 billion to the world total of necessary investment to head off climate change. (A stitch in time saves nine, as the saying goes.)

On the most important issue facing humanity, the United States is becoming dangerously close to a rogue state. Let us hope we can soon rejoin the world community and start acting like sensible, moral adults again.

Press link for more: The Week