Limits to Growth

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The Walking Dead In Washington #USPolitics #auspol #climatechange 

THE WALKING DEAD IN WASHINGTON

By Paul Gilding 


We’re all focused on the drama and entertainment of Trump’s takeover of the world’s centre of military, security and economic power. For some it’s exciting and entertaining, for others terrifying and apocalyptic. I too have been glued to the news – at various times having each of those responses! But now I’ve come back to earth, recognising it all for what it is. Important, but a sideshow to a much bigger and more important game. And on reflection, I’m glad he got elected.
How can a Trump Presidency be positive? Surely this is a major setback – to action on climate change, to addressing inequality, to human rights and global security. Doesn’t it make the world a scarier and less stable place? In isolation, all true, but in context, not so much. The context is the key.
Trump’s election is not a trend. It should not be seen as evidence of a swing to the right, to nationalism and xenophobia etc. It is simply a symptom of the volatility inherent in the accelerating breakdown of our current economic approach and model.
What we are seeing is the last hurrah of a dying approach. A desperate attempt by the incumbents to rescue the now failing economic model that did deliver great progress for humanity but has come to the end of its road – and that road finishes at a cliff.
A cliff is the right analogy for a range of reasons. Perhaps most starkly it’s climate change and resource scarcity but also inequality and the failure of the old model to deliver further progress for most people in Western countries. There are many other issues we face, but these two – climate change (and with it food supply and geopolitical security risks) and inequality within countries – are the systemic risks. They define the cliff because neither can continue to worsen without the system responding – either transforming or breaking down. So the old approach is finished, along with the fossil fuel industry, and the walking dead taking over Washington won’t bring it back to life.
This leads to why, on reflection, I’m surprisingly pleased Trump was elected, rather than Hillary Clinton. I know it is hard to imagine how someone as appalling as Trump is better than the alternative, so let me expand.
We are now accelerating towards the cliff and we don’t have much time left to change course. If Clinton had been elected, we would have continued to suffer the delusion that we were addressing the systemic risks we face in an inadequate but still worthwhile way. There would have been the same debates about fossil fuel companies having too much influence on politics, the conservative wealthy elites (yes there are liberal wealthy elites!) manipulating the system to their benefit etc. But we would have seen some progress.
Meanwhile business people would have argued the need for less regulation and “freeing up” the economy. They would have argued we needed to run the country like business people run companies, that if only we had strong (i.e. autocratic) leadership, we could get things done. And the Tea Party style extremists would have had their favourite enemy – another Clinton – to rail against and blame for it all, as they mobilized their base.
Now there’s no debate – it’s all there to see. The fossil fuel industry dominates the administration, gaining unfettered access to more coal, oil and gas. The iconic symbol and long term funder of climate change denial, Exxon has seen their CEO put in charge of US foreign policy and climate negotiations. Trump is “the businessman in charge” and can slash regulation, free up the financial markets to unleash more mayhem and wind back those pesky environmental protections.
He will attack the media, mobilise extremists and unleash all the autocratic and nationalistic tendencies that the system has – but normally suppresses. His solution to inequality will be to give tax breaks to the rich (you can’t make this stuff up!) when we know only government intervention – or catastrophe– prevents inequality being the inevitable result of unfettered markets.
The critical result of all this? No change to the fundamental direction we are on. The rich will get richer, the middle class will stagnate, racism and conflict will worsen and we will be less secure – all while climate change destabilises civilisation. How is this good?
Because three big things will change.
First, there will no-one left to blame. Extreme capitalism will be unleashed and it will not deliver. The fraud of trickle-down economics will be exposed.
Secondly – US climate policy will no longer matter – fossil fuels will die on the same schedule they were dying on. As I argued in my 2015 article “Fossil fuels are finished, the rest is detail”, these are fundamental trends driven by technology and markets – and no government can stop them.
Thirdly – and most importantly – is “the resistance”. We are seeing a huge mobilisation of activism and social engagement among people who have long been passive – as this humorous post describes. This is like the 60’s – without the drugs but with a political strategy! Climate change will be our Vietnam, the fossil fuel industry our military industrial complex. It could trigger, as this Atlantic article explored, a Tea Party of the left – maybe even a Green Tea Party. Chaotic, aggressive and not always rational, but very impactful. And the liberal wealthy elites will get right behind it – because they too have a lot to lose from extreme capitalism and climate chaos.
Isn’t this all a bit scary? Don’t we now face a period of extreme upheaval and risk? Yes, but in case you hadn’t noticed, we already are. Ask a Syrian climate refugee trying to get into Europe. Observe the terrifying trends at our melting ice caps. Talk to a disaffected, scared, unemployed factory worker in middle America who sees no prospects for themselves and their kids. The system is breaking down.
We’re racing towards the cliff. Despite our desperate denial, we are going to face a global crisis, regardless of what we do. This will not be gentle.
So we need to face reality on how really dramatic change could actually occur. System change doesn’t happen incrementally and is not triggered by traditional political processes – it takes a crisis. With Clinton, we would have blundered our way closer to the cliff, deluded by small progress. With Trump, we may just wake up in time.
The Great Disruption is now in full swing. We face the most important choice in human history – economic decline and the descent into chaos – possibly collapse – or transformation into a very different economy and society. Having the walking dead in Washington may be just what we need.

Press link for more :Paul Gilding.com

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The Slow Confiscation of Everything #auspol 

The Slow Confiscation of Everything

By Laurie Penny 


A protest against EPA head Scott Pruitt. / Lorie Shaull
These days, the words of the prophets are written in whimsical chalk on the hoardings of hipster latte-mongers: “The end is nigh. Coffee helps.”

 In the days running up to the inauguration of Donald Trump, I saw this sort of message everywhere, and as panic-signals go, it’s oddly palliative. 

The idea that the Western world might soon be a smoking crater or a stinking swamp does, in fact, make me a little more relaxed about the prospect of spending five dollars on a hot drink.  
Fuck it. 

The planet, as we keep telling each other, is on fire. 

Might as well have a nice latte while we wait for the flames to slobber up our ankles. 

When you consider that some desperate barista boiled the entire philosophy of post-Fordist public relations down to its acrid essence, it would be ungrateful not to. 

What have you got to lose? 

Five dollars and your pride, in the short term, but what will those be worth next year? 

Next week? 

Have you looked at the Dow Jones lately? 

Have you turned on the news? 

On second thoughts, best not—just drink your coffee and calm down. 

Look, they’ve drawn a little mushroom cloud in the milk foam. 

It’s quite beautiful, when you think about it. 
The topic of apocalypse comes up a lot these days. 

It’s slipped into conversation as compulsively as you might mention any other potentially distressing disruption to your life plans, such as a family member’s illness, or a tax audit. 

And yet the substance of the conversation has shifted in recent weeks and months from an atmosphere of chronic to acute crisis. 

The end seems to be slightly more nigh than it was last year; we talk about the Trumpocalypse with less and less irony as the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moves the Doomsday clock half a minute closer to midnight. 
Of all the despicable things the runaway ghost train of the Trump administration has done in its first ferocious weeks, the attempt to utterly destroy every instrument of environmental protection is perhaps the most permanent.

 The appointment of fossil fuel tycoons and fanatical climate change deniers to key positions in energy and foreign policy, the immediate reinstitution of the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines, the promise to pull out of the Paris Climate Pact—all moves crafted to please the oil magnates who helped put him in power—these are changes that will hasten the tick of the time bomb under civilization as we know it. 

Racist laws can eventually be overthrown, and even a cultural backslide toward bigotry and nationalism can be slowly, painfully reversed. 

We don’t get a do-over on climate change. 

The vested interests agitating to strip the planet for parts know that, too—and they plan to profit from this particular apocalypse as hard as they can.
They’re not the only ones eagerly anticipating the end times. 

Apocalyptic thinking has a long and febrile history in Western thought, and it is usually associated with moments of profound cultural change, when people found it all but impossible to envision a future they might live inside. 

The notion of armageddon as something to look forward to crops up time and again at moments of profound social unrest. 

Today, that includes legions of lonely alt-righters celebrating the advent of a new post-democratic, post-civilizational age where men will be real men again, and women will be really grateful. 


This “dark enlightenment” rumbles alongside a massive revival in millenarian end-times fanaticism among the Evangelical Christians who overwhelmingly voted for a man some of them believe is the literal antichrist who will hasten the final return of Jesus and his arse-kicking angels to sweep the righteous to their reward. 

There are many millions of people, especially in the United States, who seem to want an apocalypse—a word whose literal meaning is a great “unveiling,” a moment of calamity in which the murkiest and basest of human terrors will be mercifully swept aside. 

That gentle armageddon, however, looks unlikely to be delivered. 

Frightened, angry human beings have always fantasized about the end of the world—and institutions of power have always profited from that fantasy. 

In fact, as David Graeber notes in Debt: The First 5,000 Years, the ideal psychological culture for the current form of calamity capitalism is an apprehension of coming collapse mated bluntly with the possibility of individual escape. 

An economy driven by debt and fueled by looting and burning the resources that have sustained the species for generations would feel far more monstrous if it weren’t for the lingering suspicion that it might all be in flames tomorrow anyway.

 The world is on fire. 

Might as well build that pipeline. 

Might as well have that coffee.

But what world is on fire? 

The late comedian George Carlin had it right when he reminded us that

 “The planet is fine. The people are fucked.” 

The Earth is resilient, and will stagger on in some form until it is swallowed by the sun some four billion years from now—the world that we envision ending is Western civilization as we have come to understand it, a mere eyeblink in the long species churn of planetary history. 

Apocalyptic thinking has been a consistent refrain as the human species struggles to evolve beyond its worst impulses, but the precise form of the anticipated collapse always changes. 

Those changes are important. 

The catastrophes we are anticipating today are not the catastrophes of thirty years ago, and that distinction matters a great deal.
Climate change is this generation’s calamity, and it is similar to the nuclear threat that nurtured the baby boomers in that it promises a different sort of death from the petty disasters of war, famine, and pestilence—it promises near-total species collapse. 

The past swept away along with the future. 

The deletion of collective memory. 

This is an existential threat more profound than anything humanity has had to reckon with before except in the throes of ecstatic religious millenarianism.

 Rapture, in the Abrahamic understanding, traditionally meant immortality for the species.

 We are the first to really have to wrestle with ultimate species death, extinction in memory as well as being.

 Of course we are afraid. 

We were afraid of the Bomb. 

We’re afraid now, even though many people’s understanding of climate change hasn’t moved past the denial stage.

 It is there, however, that the similarities between the two types of apocalypse end.
Climate change is a different prospect of calamity—not just elementally but morally different from nuclear exchange in a manner which has not been properly dealt with. 

The first difference is that it’s definitely happening. 

The second is that it’s not happening to everyone. 
There will be no definite moment can say that yes, today we are fucked, and yesterday we were unfucked.

For anyone who grew up in the Cold War, the apocalypse was a simple yes-no question: either it was coming, or it wasn’t. 

Many people I know who grew up before the end of the nuclear arms race describe this as oddly freeing: there was the sense that since the future might explode at any point, it was not worth the effort of planning. 

Climate change is species collapse by a thousand cuts. 

There will be no definite moment we can say that yes, today we are fucked, and yesterday we were unfucked. 

Instead the fuckery increases incrementally year on year, until this is the way the world ends: not with a bang, not with a bonfire, but with the slow and savage confiscation of every little thing that made you human, starting with hope.


“In the U.S. we have a very strong sense of apocalypse that comes from puritanism, and it fed nicely into fears about the Bomb,” says Annalee Newitz, author of Scatter, Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive A Mass Extinction.

 “Both kinds of apocalypse are instantaneous and there’s not much you can do about them. 

But climate change is slow and strange, sometimes imperceptible in a human lifetime. 

There are no pyrotechnics. 

Plus, we actually have a chance to intervene and prevent the worst effects of it. 

I think that’s a tough sell for people who grew up with a Bomb paradigm of apocalypse, where there’s either fiery atomic death or you’re fine. 

It’s hard to explain to people that there are probabilities and gradations of apocalypse when it comes to the environment, and there are hundreds of ways to mitigate it, from curbing emissions to preserving natural habitats and changing our agricultural practices. 

In a weird way, I think people are just now getting used to the slow apocalypse, and still don’t know how to deal with it.”
This was the unegalitarian apocalypse millennials inherited. 

If we are to define generations by their political impressions, one thing that everyone who grew up with no memory of the Cold War shares is a specific set of superstitions. 

 One of them was the consensus that neoliberalism had produced the “End of History.” 

For those of us who had not read Francis Fukuyama by the age of five, this came across as a general sense that there was no better society to hope for, no way of living on the horizon that would improve on the one we had been raised to—the nineties and the early aughts were as good as it was going to get.

 From here on in, unless we recycled and remembered to turn off the taps like the singing Saturday afternoon TV puppets urged us to, it would be slow collapse. 

Our parents, relieved of the immediate threat of atomic incineration, seemed oddly calm about that prospect.
Not half as calm, however, as our elected and unelected leaders.

 Because that’s the inconvenient truth, the other inconvenience about the world ending this way: it’s not ending for everyone.
This month, in a fascinating article for The New Yorker, Evan Osnos interviewed several multi-millionaires who are stockpiling weapons and building private bunkers in anticipation of what preppers glibly call “SHTF”—the moment when “Shit Hits The Fan.” 

Osnos observes that the reaction of Silicon Valley Svengalis, for example, is in stark contrast to previous generations of the super-rich, who saw it as a moral duty to give back to their community in order to stave off ignorance, want and social decline. 

Family names like Carnegie and Rockefeller are still associated with philanthropy in the arts and sciences. 

These people weren’t just giving out of the goodness of their hearts, but out of the sense that they too were stakeholders in the immediate future.
Cold War leaders came to the same conclusions in spite of themselves.

 The thing about Mutually Assured Destruction is that it is, well, mutual—like aid, or understanding, or masturbation.

 The idea is that the world explodes, or doesn’t, for everyone. 

How would the Cuban Missile Crisis have gone down, though, if the negotiating parties had known, with reasonable certainty, that they and their families would be out of reach of the fallout? 
How would the Cuban Missile Crisis have gone down if the negotiating parties had known that they and their families would be out of reach of the fallout?

Today’s apocalypse will be unevenly distributed.

 It’s not the righteous who will be saved, but the rich—at least for a while.

 The irony is that the tradition of apocalyptic thinking—religious, revolutionary or both—has often involved the fantasy of the destruction of class and caste. 

For many millenarian thinkers—including the puritans in whose pinched shoes the United States is still sneaking about—the rapture to come would be a moment of revelation, where all human sin would be swept away. 

Money would no longer matter. 

Poor and privileged alike would be judged on the riches of their souls. 

That fantasy is extrapolated in almost every modern disaster movie—the intrepid survivors are permitted to negotiate a new-made world in which all that matters is their grit, their courage, and their moral fiber. 
A great many modern political currents, especially the new right and the alt-right, are swept along by the fantasy of a great civilizational collapse which will wash away whichever injustice most bothers you, whether that be unfettered corporate influence, women getting above themselves, or both—any and every humiliation heaped on the otherwise empty tables of men who had expected more from their lives, economic humiliations that are served up and spat back out as racism, sexism, and bigotry. 

For these men, the end of the world sounds like a pretty good deal. 

More and more, it is only by imagining the end of the world that we can imagine the end of capitalism in its current form. This remains true even when it is patently obvious that civilizational collapse might only be survivable by the elite.
When it was announced that the Doomsday Clock had moved closer to midnight, I panicked for an entire day before realizing that, like a great many people, I didn’t know what the Doomsday Clock actually was.

 In case you were wondering, it’s not actually a real clock. 

It’s a visual representation of certain scientists’ estimation of how close human society is to catastrophe, published on the front cover of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1947—a genius exercise in metonymy and public relations conceived in an age when the problem was not that people were panicking about the end of the world, but that they weren’t panicking enough. 

There is no sympathetic magic at play: if a drunk sub-editor got into the layout program and moved the portentous second hand all the way to Zero Hour on a whim, no rockets would fire of their own accord. 

This apocalypse is still within our power to prevent—and that starts with abandoning the apocalyptic mindset.
It is hard to outline the contours of a future you have never been allowed to imagine—one that is both different from today but accessible from it, too. 

The best we have been permitted to hope for is that the status quo be scraped to the edges of the present for as long as it lasts—a vote to run the knife around the empty jar of neoliberal aspiration and hope there’s enough to cover our asses.

 If people cannot imagine a future for themselves, all they can measure is what they’ve lost. 

Those who believe in the future are left, as they always were, with the responsibility of creating it, and that begins with an act of faith—not just that the future will be survivable, but that it might, somehow, maybe, be an exciting place to live. 
“Every ruthless criticism of current politics should be tied in some way to an example of how we could do things better,” said Newitz. “I realize that’s a tall order, especially when positive visions often feel like wishful thinking rather than direct action. Nevertheless we need to know what we are fighting for to retain our sense of hope. We need maps of where we are going, not just fire to burn it all down.”

Press link for more: The Baffler.com

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Let’s Make a Deal #ClimateChange Put a price on pollution. #auspol 

Left & Right “Let’s Make a Deal” Put a price on Carbon Pollution #ClimateChange #auspol 

Earlier this month, conservative elder statesmen issued a “Let’s Make a Deal” on climate: Nix Obama-era regulations in return for a carbon tax and dividend.
So far, the idea has gained little traction from unretired Republicans who could actually make a deal. 

But if that changes, should Democrats and pro-environment independents accept it?

The proposal was issued with great fanfare by the newly formed Climate Leadership Council. 

Conservative economists Martin Feldstein and Gregory Mankiw and former secretaries of State George Shultz and James Baker III touted the plan in op-eds for the The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. 

The council launched its effort at the National Press Club the same day.
A carbon tax appeals to free-market conservatives by empowering markets to find the cheapest ways to cut emissions.

 By returning the money through a dividend, the tax would not grow the size of government. 

The council estimates the dividend would start at $2,000 for a family of four, and rise with the carbon tax.
However, the council isn’t offering something for nothing. 

Their proposal calls for ending President Obama’s climate regulations. 

Specifically, they would nix the Clean Power Plan, tougher fuel economy standards for heavy-duty trucks and additional regulations yet to be specified. 

Fortunately, the council is not seeking to weaken light-duty fuel economy standards, appliance efficiency standards or the hydrofluorocarbon deal signed in Kigali, Rwanda, last year.


Obama pledged under the Paris climate agreement that the United States would aim for 28 percent emission reductions by 2025 from 2005 levels. 

As I wrote last year, the U.S. had already cut emissions 9 percent by 2014. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just announced that emissions fell another 2.2 percent in 2015.
The council estimates that continuation of Obama-era policies would leave the U.S. about 12 percentage points shy of its Paris pledge. 

That’s why 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had proposed an ambitious agenda for further progress.

With President Trump and congressional Republicans calling to reverse Obama’s policies without replacement, we’d likely fall further behind.
To meet our Paris pledge, the council proposes a carbon tax starting at $40/ton and rising with time. 

Unlike weaker taxes discussed before, the new proposal would likely be more than sufficient for that goal. 

A recent Treasury Department analysis estimates that a $49/ton tax would far surpass the emission cuts needed for Paris.

Meanwhile, Resources for the Future modeled various sets of carbon taxes that could achieve the Paris pledge. 

As co-author Marc Hafstead explained via email, their modeling shows a tax rising to $38/ton (in year 2013 dollars) by 2025 would meet the target. 

The council’s proposal would exceed that level with its annual increases, and yield further benefits for decades to come.
Interestingly, Hafstead noted that their calculation of a $38/ton threshold for Paris compliance assumes the U.S. abandons efforts to control more potent greenhouse gases like methane. 

That may be the case, as the House voted this month to overturn rules on methane emissions from oil and gas drilling.
But if we don’t abandon progress on other pollutants, Hafstead estimates a tax of just $22/ton would be sufficient.
Ditching methane controls is a bad deal for many reasons. 

Methane is the leading source of ozone smog worldwide. 

That’s why researchers such as Jason West of the University of North Carolina and Arlene Fiore of Columbia University have shown that methane reductions can save tens of thousands of lives.

Leaking methane also means wasting a valuable fuel. 

Since methane is short-lived, it actually causes more warming near-term than traditional 100-year outlooks would suggest. 

Controlling methane while keeping the council’s $40-plus/ton tax proposal would accelerate U.S. progress toward its ultimate goal of 80 percent emission reductions by 2050.
Environmentalists have little to lose trading the Clean Power Plan for a carbon tax. 

As I wrote with Leah Parks last year, the U.S. is well ahead of schedule to meet the plan’s targets.

 That’s because cheaper natural gas and renewables are already displacing coal, even as the Clean Power Plan remains tied up in court.


The main importance of the Clean Power Plan is preventing a swing back to coal if natural gas prices rise. 

But a carbon tax averts that scenario. 

A $40/ton tax would add 4.2 cents per kilowatt hour to the cost of coal electricity, but just 1.6 cents for natural gas combined cycle plants. 

Solar and wind would pay nothing.

With many coal plants already losing money, coal would quickly give way to cheaper and cleaner forms of electricity.

 Meanwhile, the tax on natural gas is comparable in size to existing tax credits for wind and solar. 

Even without those tax credits, wind and solar are already as cheap as new natural gas plants. 

Taxing natural gas would help renewables extend their recent dominance of new generation capacity without the need for subsidies.
For transportation, the effects of a carbon tax would be far milder. 

A $40/ton tax would add just 36 cents to the cost of a gallon of gasoline. 

That’s not going to convince many people to drive less or buy an electric car, especially since electricity prices would rise a bit too. 

However, with fuel economy standards set to tighten, electric car sales would continue to rise.

Looking beyond the 2025 Paris target, swapping regulations for a carbon tax becomes an even more attractive deal. 

The Clean Power Plan ends in 2030. 

However, a steadily rising carbon tax would continue to drive down emissions for decades to come.
Carbon taxes have traditionally been criticized as regressive, since the poor spend a greater share of their income on energy. 

However, by rebating the tax through a per-person dividend, the Climate Leadership Council’s proposal would leave many low-income families better off.
So should Democrats and independents welcome this deal?
In a word, yes. 

Writers in The Nation, the The New York Times and Mother Jones have reached similar conclusions. 

I’d bargain for tougher methane regulations, but could accept waiting to restore those later.
Trouble is, conservative economists and retired Republican statesmen are in no position to seal this deal. 

RepublicEn, Citizens Climate Lobby and the Climate Solutions Caucus are trying to rally Republican and bipartisan support for a carbon tax in Congress.
For now, such efforts have fallen on deaf ears from politicians who hear no evil on climate.

 If that changes, liberals and moderates shouldn’t shy away from nixing Obama-era policies to accept a market-based solution to climate change.
Dan Cohan is an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rice University.

Press link for more: The Hill

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We’re at War to save the planet! #auspol #climatechange #science 

By Paul Mason

It hits you in the face and clings to you. 

It makes tall buildings whine as their air conditioning plants struggle to cope.

 It makes the streets deserted and the ice-cold salons of corner pubs get crowded with people who don’t like beer. 

It is the Aussie heatwave: and it is no joke.

Temperatures in the western suburbs of Sydney, far from the upmarket beachside glamour, reached 47C (117F) last week, topping the 44C I experienced there the week before.

 For reference, if it reached 47C in the middle of the Sahara desert, that would be an unusually hot day.
For Sydney, 2017 was the hottest January on record. 

This after 2016 was declared the world’s hottest year on record. 

Climate change, even in some developed societies, is becoming climate disruption – and according to a UN report, one of the biggest disruptions may only now be getting under way.

El Niño, a temperature change in the Pacific ocean that happens cyclically, may have begun interacting with the long-term process of global warming, with catastrophic results.
Let’s start by admitting the science is not conclusive. 

El Niño disrupts the normal pattern by which warm water flows westwards across the Pacific, pulling the wind in the same direction; it creates storms off South America and droughts – together with extreme temperatures – in places such as Australia. 

It is an irregular cycle, lasting between two and seven years, and therefore can only be theorised using models.
Some of these models predict that, because of climate change, El Niño will happen with increased frequency – possibly double. 

Others predict the effects will become more devastating, due to the way the sub-systems within El Niño react with each other as the air and sea warm.
What cannot be disputed is that the most recent El Niño in 2015/16 contributed to the extreme weather patterns of the past 18 months, hiking global temperatures that were already setting records.

 (Although, such is the level of rising, both 2015 and 2016 would have still been the hottest ever without El Niño.) 

Sixty million people were “severely affected” according to the UN, while 23 countries – some of which no longer aid recipients – had to call for urgent humanitarian aid. 


The catastrophe prompted the head of the World Meteorological Association to warn: 

“This naturally occurring El Niño event and human-induced climate change may interact and modify each other in ways that we have never before experienced.”
The warning was enough to prompt the UN to issue a global action plan, with early warning systems, beefed-up aid networks and disaster relief preparation, and calls for developing countries to “climate proof” their economic plans.
Compare all this – the science, the modelling, the economic foresight and the attempt to design multilateral blueprint – with the actions of the jackass who runs Australia’s finance ministry.

Scott Morrison barged into the parliament chamber to wave a lump of coal at the Labor and Green opposition benches, taunting them: 

“Don’t be afraid, don’t be scared. 

It’s coal. 

It was dug up by men and women who work in the electorate of those who sit opposite.” 

Coal, argues the Australian conservative government, has given the economy “competitive energy advantage for more than 100 years”. 

Labor and the Greens had called, after the Paris climate accord, for an orderly shutdown of the coal-fired power stations that produce 60% of the country’s energy.
The Aussie culture war over coal is being fuelled by the resurgence of the white-supremacist One Nation party, led by Pauline Hanson, which is pressuring mainstream conservatives to drop commitments to the Paris accord and, instead, launch a “royal commission into the corruption of climate science”, which its members believe is a money-making scam.
All over the world, know-nothing xenophobes are claiming – without evidence – that climate science is rigged. 

Their goal is to defend coal-burning energy, promote fracking, suppress the development of renewable energies and shatter the multilateral Paris agreement of 2015.


Opposition to climate science has become not just the badge of honour for far-right politicians like Ukip’s Paul Nuttall.

 It has become the central tenet of their appeal to unreason.
People facing increased fuel bills, new taxes on methane-producing cattle farms, dimmer light bulbs and the arrival of wind and wave technologies in traditional landscapes will naturally ask: is this really needed? 

Their inner idiot wishes it were not. 

For most of us, the inner rationalist is strong enough to counteract that wish.

What distinguishes the core of the rightwing populist electorate is its gullibility to idiocy-promoting rhetoric against climate science. 

They want to be harangued by a leader who tells them their racism is rational, in the same way they want leaders who tell them the science behind climate change is bunk.


Well, in Australia, people are quickly finding out where such rhetoric gets you: more devastating bushfires; a longer fire season; more extreme hot days; longer droughts. And an energy grid so overloaded with demands from air conditioning systems that it is struggling to cope.
And, iIf the pessimists among climate scientists are right, and the general rise in temperature has begun to destabilise and accentuate the El Niño effects, this is just the start.
The world is reeling from the election victory of Donald Trump, who has called climate science a hoax.

 Dutch voters look set to reward Geert Wilders, whose one-page election programme promises “no more money for development, windmills, art, innovation or broadcasting”, with first place in the election. 

In France, 27% of voters are currently backing the Front National, a party determined to take the country out of the Paris accord, which it sees as “a communist project”.
The struggle against the nationalist right must, in all countries, combine careful listening to the social and cultural grievances of those on its periphery with relentless stigmatisation of the idiocy, selfishness and racism of the leaders and political activists at its core.
It’s time to overcome queasiness and restraint. 

We, the liberal and progressive people of the world, are at war with the far right to save the earth. 
The extreme temperatures and climate-related disasters of the past 24 months mean this is not some abstract struggle about science or values: it’s about the immediate fate of 60 million people still recovering from a disaster.

Press link for more: The Guardian.com

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Capitalism Will Starve Humanity By 2050! #auspol 

By Drew Hansen

Unless It Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity By 2050
Capitalism has generated massive wealth for some, but it’s devastated the planet and has failed to improve human well-being at scale.
• Species are going extinct at a rate 1,000 times faster than that of the natural rate over the previous 65 million years (see Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School).
• Since 2000, 6 million hectares of primary forest have been lost each year. That’s 14,826,322 acres, or just less than the entire state of West Virginia (see the 2010 assessment by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN).
• Even in the U.S., 15% of the population lives below the poverty line. For children under the age of 18, that number increases to 20% (see U.S. Census).
• The world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050 (see United Nations’ projections).

Capitalism is unsustainable in its current form. (Credit: ZINIYANGE AUNTONY/AFP/Getty Images)
How do we expect to feed that many people while we exhaust the resources that remain?
Human activities are behind the extinction crisis. Commercial agriculture, timber extraction, and infrastructure development are causing habitat loss and our reliance on fossil fuels is a major contributor to climate change.
Public corporations are responding to consumer demand and pressure from Wall Street. 

Professors Christopher Wright and Daniel Nyberg published Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations last fall, arguing that businesses are locked in a cycle of exploiting the world’s resources in ever more creative ways.
“Our book shows how large corporations are able to continue engaging in increasingly environmentally exploitative behaviour by obscuring the link between endless economic growth and worsening environmental destruction,” they wrote.
Yale sociologist Justin Farrell studied 20 years of corporate funding and found that “corporations have used their wealth to amplify contrarian views [of climate change] and create an impression of greater scientific uncertainty than actually exists.”

Corporate capitalism is committed to the relentless pursuit of growth, even if it ravages the planet and threatens human health.
We need to build a new system: one that will balance economic growth with sustainability and human flourishing.
A new generation of companies are showing the way forward. They’re infusing capitalism with fresh ideas, specifically in regards to employee ownership and agile management.
The Increasing Importance Of Distributed Ownership And Governance
Fund managers at global financial institutions own the majority (70%) of the public stock exchange. 

These absent owners have no stake in the communities in which the companies operate. 

Furthermore, management-controlled equity is concentrated in the hands of a select few: the CEO and other senior executives.
On the other hand, startups have been willing to distribute equity to employees. 

Sometimes such equity distribution is done to make up for less than competitive salaries, but more often it’s offered as a financial incentive to motivate employees toward building a successful company.
According to The Economist, today’s startups are keen to incentivize via shared ownership:
The central difference lies in ownership: whereas nobody is sure who owns public companies, startups go to great lengths to define who owns what. 

Early in a company’s life, the founders and first recruits own a majority stake—and they incentivise people with ownership stakes or performance-related rewards. 

That has always been true for startups, but today the rights and responsibilities are meticulously defined in contracts drawn up by lawyers. 

This aligns interests and creates a culture of hard work and camaraderie.
 Because they are private rather than public, they measure how they are doing using performance indicators (such as how many products they have produced) rather than elaborate accounting standards.
This trend hearkens back to cooperatives where employees collectively owned the enterprise and participated in management decisions through their voting rights. 

Mondragon is the oft-cited example of a successful, modern worker cooperative. 

Mondragon’s broad-based employee ownership is not the same as an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. 

With ownership comes a say – control – over the business. 

Their workers elect management, and management is responsible to the employees.

Press link for more: Forbes.com

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Scientists get a sobering picture of where we are headed. #climatechange #auspol 

By Nicola Jones

Last year marked the first time in several million years that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 passed 400 parts per million. 

By looking at what Earth’s climate was like in previous eras of high CO2 levels, scientists are getting a sobering picture of where we are headed.
Last year will go down in history as the year when the planet’s atmosphere broke a startling record: 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide. 

The last time the planet’s air was so rich in CO2 was millions of years ago, back before early predecessors to humans were likely wielding stone tools; the world was a few degrees hotter back then, and melted ice put sea levels tens of meters higher.

“We’re in a new era,” says Ralph Keeling, director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s CO2 Program in San Diego. “And it’s going fast. 

We’re going to touch up against 410 pretty soon.”
There’s nothing particularly magic about the number 400.

 But for environmental scientists and advocates grappling with the invisible, intangible threat of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, this symbolic target has served as a clear red line into a danger zone of climate change.
When scientists (specifically, Ralph Keeling’s father) first started measuring atmospheric CO2 consistently in 1958, at the pristine Mauna Loa mountaintop observatory in Hawaii, the CO2 level stood at 316 parts per million (ppm), just a little higher than the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm. 

400 was simply the next big, round number looming in our future.
But as humans kept digging up carbon out of the ground and burning it for fuel, CO2 levels sped faster and faster toward that target. 

In May 2013, at the time of the usual annual maximum of CO2, the air briefly tipped over the 400 ppm mark for the first time in several million years. 

In 2014, it stayed above 400 ppm for the whole month of April. 

By 2015, the annual average was above 400 ppm. 

And in September 2016, the usual annual low skimmed above 400 ppm for the first time, keeping air concentrations above that symbolic red line all year.

Concentrations of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere have risen rapidly since measurements began nearly 60 years ago, climbing from 316 parts per million (ppm) in 1958 to more than 400 ppm today.

 (Levels a few centuries ago held steady at about 280 ppm.)


Concentrations of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere have risen rapidly since measurements began nearly 60 years ago, climbing from 316 parts per million (ppm) in 1958 to more than 400 ppm today. SCRIPPS INSTITUTION OF OCEANOGRAPHY

Global temperatures have risen in parallel, with 2016 standing as the hottest year since records started in 1880: 2016 was about 1.1 degrees C (2°F) warmer than pre-industrial levels. 

The 2015 Paris Agreement, the latest international climate treaty, is aiming to keep the global temperature increase well below 2 degrees C, and hopefully limit it to 1.5 degrees.

At the current rate of growth in CO2, levels will hit 500 ppm within 50 years, putting us on track to reach temperature boosts of perhaps more than 3 degrees C (5.4°F) — a level that climate scientists say would cause bouts of extreme weather and sea level rise that would endanger global food supplies, cause disruptive mass migrations, and even destroy the Amazon rainforest through drought and fire.
Each landmark event has given scientists and environmentalists a reason to restate their worries about what humans are doing to the climate.

 “Reaching 400 ppm is a stark reminder that the world is still not on a track to limit CO2 emissions and therefore climate impacts,” said Annmarie Eldering, deputy project scientist for NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 satellite mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 

“Passing this mark should motivate us to advocate for focused efforts to reduce emissions across the globe.
THE MODERN MEASURE
Back in the 1950s, scientist Charles David Keeling (Ralph Keeling’s father) chose the Mauna Loa volcano site to measure CO2 because it is a good spot to see large atmospheric averages. 

Rising to 3,400 meters (11,155 feet) in the middle of the ocean, Mauna Loa samples an air mass that has already been well mixed from the inputs and outputs of CO2 far below and far away. 

And the site, being a volcano, is surrounded by many miles of bare lava, helping to eliminate wobbles in the measurement from the “breathing” of nearby plants.
The start of Keeling’s effort was well timed: the 1950s was also when man-made emissions really began to take off, going from about 5 billion tons of CO2 per year in 1950 to more than 35 billion tons per year today.

 Natural sources of CO2, from forest fires to soil and plant respiration and decomposition, are much bigger than that — about 30 times larger than what mankind produces each year. 

But natural sinks, like plant growth and the oceans, tend to soak that up. 

The excess produced by mankind’s thirst for energy is what makes the CO2 concentration in the air go up and up. Once in the air, that gas can stay there for millennia.
The so-called Keeling Curve that plots this rise has an annual wiggle because the entire planet inhales and exhales like a giant living being. 

In the Northern Hemisphere (where the Mauna Loa observatory is based, and also where most of the planet’s landmass and land-based plants sit), the air in spring is filled with the CO2 released by soil microbes in the thawing snow, and by autumn the CO2 has been vacuumed up by a burst of summer plant life; hence the annual high in May and low in September.
While Mauna Loa has become the global standard for CO2 levels, measurements taken in other places have confirmed the Mauna Loa results. 

NOAA’s network of marine surface stations, and even a monitoring station in the remote, pristine Antarctic, all passed the 400 ppm hurdle in 2016. 

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 shows the planet hovering around 400 ppm, with variation from one place to another, mainly thanks to atmospheric circulation patterns.
Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are now above 400 parts per million year-round globally.

Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 surpassed 400 ppm at the South Pole last year.

Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are now above 400 parts per million year-round globally [left], and last year surpassed 400 ppm at the South Pole. NOAA

THE LONG VIEW
In the big picture, 400 ppm is a low-to-middling concentration of CO2 for the planet Earth.
Some 500 million years ago, when the number of living things in the oceans exploded and creatures first stepped on land, the ancient atmosphere happened to be rich with about 7,000 ppm of carbon dioxide.

 Earth was very different back then: the Sun was cooler, our planet was in a different phase of its orbital cycles, and the continents were lumped together differently, changing ocean currents and the amount of ice on land. 

The planet was maybe as much as 10 degrees C (18°F) warmer than today, which might seem surprisingly cool for that level of greenhouse gas; with so many factors at play, the link between CO2 and temperature isn’t always easy to see. 

But researchers have confirmed that CO2 was indeed a major driver of the planet’s thermostat over the past 500 million years: large continental ice sheets formed and sea levels dropped when the atmosphere was low in CO2, for example.
Thanks to earth-shaking, slow-moving forces like plate tectonics, mountain building, and rock weathering — which absorb CO2 — atmospheric concentration of CO2 generally declined by about 13 ppm per million years, with a few major wobbles. 

As large plants evolved and became common about 350 million years ago, for example, their roots dug into the ground and sped up weathering processes that trap atmospheric carbon in rocks like limestone. This might have triggered a massive dip in CO2 levels and a glaciation 300 million years ago. That was eventually followed by a period of massive volcanic activity as the supercontinent ripped apart, spewing out enough CO2 to more than double its concentration in the air. 

CO2 levels over the last 400 million years. 


The last time CO2 levels were as high as today’s was about 3 million years ago. 

At right are different projections of future CO2 levels from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; under the worst-case scenario, CO2 concentrations would rise to 2,000 ppm by 2500 from 400 ppm today.

CO2 levels over the last 400 million years. The last time CO2 levels were as high as today’s was about 3 million years ago. FOSTER ET AL/DESCENT INTO THE ICEHOUSE

The last time the planet had a concentration of 300 to 400 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere was during the mid-Pliocene, 3 million years ago — recently enough for the planet to be not radically different than it is today. Back then, temperatures were 2 degrees C to 3 degrees C (3.6 to 5.4°F) above pre-industrial temperatures (though more than 10 degrees C hotter in the Arctic), and sea levels were at least 15-25 meters higher. Forest grew in the Canadian north and grasslands abounded worldwide; the Sahara was probably covered in vegetation. Homo habilis (aka “handy man”), the first species in the Homo line and probably the first stone-tool users, got a taste of this climate as they arrived on the scene 2.8 million years ago. (Homo sapiens didn’t show up until 400,000 years ago at the earliest.)
To find a time when the planet’s air was consistently above 400 ppm you have to look much farther back to the warm part of the Miocene, some 16 million years ago, or the Early Oligocene, about 25 million years ago, when Earth was a very different place and its climate totally dissimilar from what we might expect today.
There’s a lot of debate about both temperatures and CO2 levels from millions of years ago. But the evidence is much firmer for the last 800,000 years, when ice cores show that CO2 concentrations stayed tight between 180 and 290 ppm, hovering at around 280 ppm for some 10,000 years before the industrial revolution hit. (There have been eight glacial cycles over these past 800,000 years, mostly driven by wobbles in the Earth’s orbit that run on 41,000 and 100,000 year timescales). This is the benchmark against which scientists usually note the unprecedented modern rise of CO2.
Frighteningly, this modern rise of CO2 is also accelerating at an unusual rate. 


In the late 1950s, the annual rate of increase was about 0.7 ppm per year; from 2005-2014 it was about 2.1 ppm per year. 
Concentrations of atmospheric CO2 soared in recent decades as industrialized nations continued to pour carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and emissions in developing nations rose steeply. As this chart shows, the annual rate of CO2 increase in the early 1960s was about 0.7 ppm a year, compared to 2.1 ppm per year from 2005 to 2014.

Concentrations of atmospheric CO2 soared in recent decades as industrialized nations continued to pour carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and emissions in developing nations rose steeply. NOAA/SCRIPPS INSTITUTION OF OCEANOGRAPHY

Paleo records hint that it usually takes much longer to shift CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere; although researchers can’t see what happened on time frames as short as decades in the distant past, the fastest blips they can see were an order of magnitude slower than what’s happening today. These were typically associated with some major stress like a mass extinction, notes Dana Royer, a climatologist at Wesleyan University. During the end-Triassic extinction 200 million years ago, for example, CO2 values jumped from about 1,300 ppm to 3,500 ppm thanks to massive volcanic eruptions in what is now the central Atlantic. That took somewhere between 1,000 to 20,000 years. Today we could conceivably change our atmosphere by thousands of parts per million in just a couple of hundred years. There’s nothing anywhere near that in the ice core records, says Keeling.
FUTURE SCENARIOS
Though 400 seems a big, scary number for now, CO2 concentrations could easily pass 500 ppm in the coming decades, and even reach 2,000 by 2250, if CO2 emissions are not brought under control.
Predicting future CO2 levels in the atmosphere is complicated; even if we know what will happen to man-made emissions, which depends on international policies and technological developments, the planet’s network of natural sources and sinks is vast and interlinked. Some plants grow faster in a carbon-rich world; deforestation takes some plants out of the equation; the ocean stores different amounts depending on its temperature and circulation.
If you completely ignore the questions of what society might do to curb emissions, and what the planet might do to suck them up, and just look purely mathematically at where the Keeling Curve is going, levels cross 500 ppm around 2050.
The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report from 2013 made a more realistic estimate of what might happen, and what the temperature outcome would be.
In the IPCC’s most pessimistic scenario, where the population booms, technology stagnates, and emissions keep rising, the atmosphere gets to a startling 2,000 ppm by about 2250. (All the IPCC scenarios presume that mankind’s impact on the atmosphere levels out by 2300.) That gives us an atmosphere last seen during the Jurassic when dinosaurs roamed, and causes an apocalyptic temperature rise of perhaps 9 degrees C (16°F).
In the next-most-pessimistic scenario, emissions peak around 2080 and then decline, leading to an atmosphere of about 700 ppm and probable temperature increases of more than 3 degrees C.
In the most optimistic scenario, where emissions peak now (2010-2020) and start to decline, with humans actually sucking more carbon out of the air than they produce by 2070, the atmosphere dips back down below 400 ppm somewhere between 2100 and 2200 and the temperature increase is held under 1 degrees C in the long term. 
Projected concentrations of CO2 under different emissions scenarios, extending to the year 2500.


Projected temperature increases under different emissions scenarios, extending to the year 2500.

These graphs from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show projected concentrations of CO2 [left] and projected temperature increases under different emissions scenarios, extending to the year 2500. IPCC

SLOWING DOWN
If man-made emissions were to magically drop to zero tomorrow, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere would start to level out immediately — but it would probably take about a decade to detect this slowdown against the background of the natural carbon cycle, according to Keeling.
Even with zero emissions, getting back to pre-industrial levels of 280 ppm is “sort of a 10,000-year proposition,” says Keeling. Atmospheric concentrations would drop relatively quickly at first, as the surface ocean sucked up a good chunk of the excess carbon in the air (that would take on the order of 100 years); then some atmospheric carbon would work its way into the deeper ocean (in about 1,000 years); then the planet’s carbon cycle — for example, the weathering of rocks — would soak up most of the rest over about 10,000 years.
It’s encouraging to see that, since 2014, total emissions have stayed basically flat despite continued growth in the global economy, mainly thanks to reduced coal burning in China. But steady emissions are a far cry from reduced emissions, zero emissions, or even “negative emissions” (where humanity uses technology to soak up more than we emit). 
​Real emissions plotted against the IPCC’s projections of CO2 emissions and temperature increases through 2100. Emissions-reduction pledges made by various nations at the U.N. Paris climate conference in 2015 will likely lead to a temperature rise by 2100 of roughly 3 degrees C, exceeding the U.N. target of holding increases below 2 degrees C.

Real emissions plotted against the IPCC’s projections of CO2 emissions and temperature increases through 2100. GLOBAL CARBON PROJECT

The non-profit Global Carbon Project estimates that the planet’s current trajectory of emissions is on track to meet the national commitments made as part of the Paris Agreement up to 2030, but not to meet the long-term goal of stabilizing the climate system below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. So that puts us somewhere in the middle zone of the IPCC’s projections; right now it’s hard to tell which long-term path we are heading for, although the most optimistic scenario — with emissions starting to decline significantly in the next few years — is arguably out of reach.
“If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted… CO2 will need to be reduced… to at most 350 ppm,” Columbia University climate guru James Hansen has said. We sailed past that target in about 1990, and it will take a gargantuan effort to turn back the clock.

 Nicola Jones

Nicola Jones is a freelance journalist based in Pemberton, British Columbia, just outside of Vancouver. With a background in chemistry and oceanography, she writes about the physical sciences, most often for the journal Nature. She has also contributed to Scientific American, Globe and Mail, and New Scientist and serves as the science journalist in residence at the University of British Columbia. 

Press link for more: E360.yale.edu

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Climate change is poised to affect the world’s food supply #auspol 

Climate change is poised to affect the world’s food supply in three key ways, experts say.
“There will be impacts on the quantity, quality and location of the food we produce,” said Dr. Sam Myers, a medical doctor and senior research scientist studying environmental health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“We’ve never needed to increase food production more rapidly than we do today to keep up with global demand,” Myers told Live Science.
But, “at the very same time, we’re fundamentally transforming the biological underpinnings” of how we produce food, he said. 
Researchers studying climate change are looking at how the biological and physical changes happening on Earth due to climate change will transform food production, Myers said at a talk Thursday at the Climate & Health Meeting, a gathering of experts from public health organizations, universities and advocacy groups that focused on the health impacts of climate change.

Food quantity

Ultimately, climate change will reduce the amount of food grown around the world, Myers told Live Science.
Initially, some experts thought that rising carbon dioxide levels might act as a fertilizer and increase food yield, Myers said. However, more recent research suggests that the net effects of climate change will mean a decrease in food yield, he said.
For example, studies have shown that the combination of increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, rising temperatures and changes to precipitation may result in significantly lower yields for staple crops such as corn and wheat, particularly in tropical areas, where food production is normally high, Myers said.

 

Areas that experience increasing temperatures due to climate change will also likely see an increase in crop pests, Myers said. Currently, pests are responsible for 25 to 40 percent of all crop loss, he said, and as climate change continues, these pests will be able to expand their reach. 
Insects may move into areas where they weren’t found previously and where plants haven’t evolved defenses to ward them off, Myers said. 

It’s also possible that certain predators of crop pests, such as birds, may shift the timing of their migrations because of climate change in ways that could prevent them from keeping pest populations in check, he added.
Location

The location of much of the world’s agriculture will also change in ways that affect the global food supply, Myers said.
Agriculture in tropical regions will likely be the hardest hit by climate change, he said. And higher global temperatures will make it more difficult for farmers to work in the heat of the day, leading to less food production, he added. Indeed, existing research already shows that heat limits work at certain times of day depending on the season in certain tropical and subtropical areas, he said.
Other food sources, such as fish, will decrease in quantity, Myers said in his talk. And, as the ocean warms, fish move toward Earth’s poles, he said.
The problem with food production decreasing near the equator, he noted, is that almost all of the human population growth that’s predicted for the next 50 years will occur in the tropics, Myers said.
And although regions closer to the poles will experience warmer weather and longer growing seasons as a result of climate change, these changes won’t be large enough to make up for the loss of food production in the tropics, Myers said.
Food quality

In addition to changes in the amounts and location of food production, research shows that when certain foods are grown at high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, they lose some of their nutritional value, Myers said.
Myers and his colleagues first published research on this phenomenon in 2014 in the journal Nature.
In that study, the researchers grew crops, including wheat and corn, under two conditions: elevated carbon dioxide levels, or normal carbon dioxide levels. The elevated carbon dioxide levels represented the concentration that is estimated to be in the atmosphere in 50 years, Myers said. They found that the crops grown under elevated carbon dioxide levels had lower levels of protein, zinc and iron, Myers said.
The decreases in the nutrients could worsen the public health problem of nutrient deficiencies, Myers added. Iron and zinc deficiencies are already huge health problems today. 


In the future, 200 million more people worldwide could develop a zinc deficiency, and the one billion people who already have a zinc deficiency could see their deficiency worsen due to these nutritional changes, Myers said. Research shows that there would be similar effects for iron and protein deficiencies as well, he said.
More research on crop nutrient levels is needed; for example, researchers still aren’t sure why elevated levels of carbon dioxide cause crops to lose nutrients, Myers said. [Science You Can Eat: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Food]
The findings illustrate how the effects of climate change are still surprising, even to scientists, Myers said. “Never in a million years would we have” predicted that an effect of climate change would be crops losing their nutritional value, he said.
“There’s no way we would’ve anticipated that,” Myers said.
Originally published on Live Science.

Press link for more: Live Science.com

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It only takes 10% to cause disruption. #auspol 

When I asked whether consumer choices are an act of political rebellion, I noted that it only took a 10% cut in coal demand to radically slash the coal industry’s credit worthiness.
What if we could do the same thing for oil?

There’s good reason to assume that just such a disruption is coming, and sooner than many people think. Consider these recent headlines from around the web:
— Smart cars going 100% electric in the US (Cleantechnica)

—Sydney Airport orders 40 more electric buses (Cleantechnica – again…)

—Vattenfall (a giant Swedish utility) converting entire vehicle fleet to electric

—20% of new buses in China are now electric (yours truly)
Headlines like these are coming so thick and fast these days that we have to pick and choose which ones we write about. Individually, they are all just a blip in the global picture of oil demand, but collectively it won’t be long before they really start to add up. And when they do start to add up, it won’t take too much cut in demand to radically reshape the future prospects for oil.
Of course, all of the above stories are about adoption of existing technologies at current pricing. But what if prices were to fall further, and faster, than they have so far? Wards Auto is reporting on conversations with auto industry insiders who say electric vehicle batteries should be under $100 per kilowatt hour by 2020, and $80 not long after that. That’s a figure well below the $125 per kilowatt hour that the Department of Energy set in 2010 as a target for cost parity with internal combustion engines.
And once we reach cost parity, there’s little that can be done by dropping tax credits or removing other incentives, to slow the march to electrification.
It’s important to note, of course, that electrification isn’t the only—or even the best—way to reduce oil demand. From massive investments in cycling infrastructure to growing transit ridership in many major cities, there are plenty of other trends underway that could squeeze oil demand from all sides. And once you squeeze oil demand enough, the infrastructural, political and economic advantages that Big Oil once enjoyed quickly start to melt away.
Take, for example, gas stations. In cities with high uptake of electric vehicles, decent transit and cycle infrastructure, and restrictions on polluting vehicles, how long will it be for sales to drop far enough that the current number of gas stations are no longer viable? And once gas stations start thinning out, there’s one more reason for everyone else to abandon their gas cars too.
I look forward to revisiting this topic in ten years time. I suspect we may be pleasantly surprised at how quickly things have changed. I’ll leave the last word to Tony Seba, whose ambitious predictions about oil industry disruption I’ve written about before. In response to a recent tweet from a certain Mr Musk, Seba had this to say:
All my #CleanDisruption predictions are accelerating and it looks like they’re happening ahead of 2030! #solar #EV #batteries #selfdriving https://t.co/wnA3YliOpK
— Tony Seba (@tonyseba) February 15, 2017

I, for one, am beginning to believe he is right.

Press link for more: Treehugger.com

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Rise Up For The Climate! #auspol 

Earth Week’s climate change plea

Photo: reb gro@Flickr

The University of Manchester’s Students’ Union launched Earth Week with a panel discussion, including campaigners Asad Rehman, from Friends of the Earth, and Martin Empson, from Campaign Against Climate Change.
Asad Rehman began with an enlightening speech about the effects of climate change on developing countries, and how intertwined the cause is with that of the #NoBanNoWall campaign. 

It is estimated that roughly 70,000 people die due to climate change related issues each year, but millions more are displaced from their homes and seek refuge elsewhere. 


It is estimated that 1 person every second is displaced from their homes as a result of drought, flood, or other climate change related disasters. 

So just as you have refugees of war, you have refugees of climate change.
What makes matters worse, is it is beyond their control. 

10 per cent of the richest countries are responsible for 50 per cent of the carbon emissions.

 Asad uses the analogy, “climate change is like the Titanic, and we’ve hit the proverbial iceberg. 

But it is the richer countries that are the people getting on the boats, whilst the poor and locked in the cabin.”
It is therefore not surprising that those who are feeling the effect of climate change-induced famine or other natural disasters are seeking refuge and help from us. 

But rather than villainising them as ‘economic migrants’, they need and deserve our legal protection.
It is because of this injustice that Asad stressed that we must rebuild a system of justice, and give a face to millions that don’t have a voice. 


We have a social responsibility to support causes such as Friends of the Earth and Campaign Against Climate Change to “build bridges, not walls”.

 Although we may not see the damage we cause, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Martin Empson elaborated that the way you can help such causes is to just get involved. 

Currently protests are everywhere and are certainly making the public’s voice heard, but he stressed that you should take part in all movements to do your bit. 

Or if that, sign a petition, write to your local MP or donate to make sure something is done.
Everyone wants to protest Trump right now, but we need to ensure the environmental and migration movements work together to positively reinforce each other and make their voices louder. 

By doing this, Martin claims we can “create a positive agenda that creates hope”.

Press link for more: Manunion.com

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Hydro isn’t clean energy. #auspol #climatechange 

Thousand Island Lake in China, the result of a dam built in the 1950s on the Xin’an River. A global study has found that greenhouse gas emissions from reservoirs are substantial, with methane contributing to 90 percent of a reservoir’s global warming potential during the first 20 years of its life. 

Photo by Bryan Ong on Flickr, under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license
From the Amazon Basin to boreal forests, and from the Mekong to the Himalayan foothills, rivers worldwide are being targeted for major new dams in a global hydropower boom that also aims to supply drinking water to exploding human populations and to facilitate navigation on the planet’s rivers; 3,700 new dams — 847 of them larger than 100 MW — are slated for construction.
But one strong argument in favor of hydropower is now looking far weaker. 

Scientists have compiled the most comprehensive assessment yet of the global impact that dam reservoirs have on the world’s atmosphere and greenhouse emissions. 

And it isn’t good news.
Globally, the researchers estimate that reservoirs — long considered “zero emitters” by the United Nations climate program — contribute 1.3 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. 

Emissions on this scale are comparable to those from rice paddy cultivation or biomass burning, the study authors write.
But despite their magnitude, these reservoir emissions are not currently counted within United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC) assessments.

 In fact, countries are currently eligible under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism to receive carbon credits for their newly built dams. 

The study raises the question as to whether hydropower should continue to be counted as green power.

Construction at the São Manoel dam site on the Teles Pires River, Brazil, where three other dams are now nearing completion. These new hydropower dams also form part of the controversial Tapajos Complex of dams and reservoirs intended to support a vast industrial waterway for transporting soy from Brazil’s interior downriver to the Amazon River, to the coast, and on to China. 

Photo by International Rivers on Flickr, licensed under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Dams not “emission free”
The study, published in BioScience, looked at the carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) emitted from 267 reservoirs across six continents.

 In total, the reservoirs studied have a surface area of more than 77,287 square kilometers (29,841 square miles). That’s equivalent to about a quarter of the surface area of all reservoirs in the world, which together cover 305,723 square kilometers (118,040 square miles) — roughly the combined size of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

“The new study confirms that reservoirs are major emitters of methane, a particularly aggressive greenhouse gas,” said Kate Horner, Executive Director of International Rivers, adding that hydropower dams “can no longer be considered a clean and green source of electricity.”
Importantly, the study teased apart the relative emission contributions of each of the three gases — a crucial consideration as these gases have varying degrees of impact on global temperature. 

Methane and nitrous oxide are many times more potent than carbon dioxide, and they also behave differently over time once released into the atmosphere, and both of these factors are relevant in the context of short and long-term policies on emission targets. 

Over a 100-year timeframe, methane’s effect on global warming is more than 30 times, and nitrous oxide’s effect is almost 300 times, greater than CO2.
But the study authors argue that the next 100 years are not nearly so relevant as the next 20 years for determining climate change policy aimed at quickly curbing global warming and meeting global emission targets set out in the Paris Agreement. And because methane “is relatively short-lived in the atmosphere (atmospheric lifetime on the order of a decade) relative to CO2 (atmospheric lifetime on the order of centuries),” they write, CH4 “has a higher global warming potential over the shorter 20-year time horizon.”
In fact, methane’s effect is 86 times greater than that of CO2 when considered on this two-decade timescale.

 Importantly, the study found that methane is responsible for 90 percent of the global warming impact of reservoir emissions over 20 years.

A dam and reservoir near Banff, Canada. The new study looked at emissions from 267 reservoirs on six continents and found that methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions together contribute 1.3 percent of human-produced greenhouse gas emissions.

 Photo by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay

The trouble with bubbles
Around half of the methane emitted from reservoirs is released in bubbles, which rise from sediment and travel through the water column to the reservoir’s surface. 

The gas trapped inside these bubbles in the water column, “is the most direct route for methane to reach the atmosphere without being turned into carbon dioxide via [interaction with] oxygen,” said Tonya DelSontro, one of the study’s co-authors, of the University of Quebec, Montreal.
Accounting for the contribution of methane bubbles is therefore a vital component of accurate reservoir emission estimates, but measuring them is challenging.

 Bubbles are hard to locate, explained DelSontro, who has studied methane emissions from lakes and reservoirs in Switzerland, Zambia and Canada.
Many factors affect when and where bubbles occur, and how likely it is that researchers will detect them, such as proximity to the shore and to river inflows, and water and air pressure. 

The method used to measure gas emission from reservoirs is also important, as many commonly used techniques may miss bubbling — known as ebullition — altogether. 

The scientists report that only half of the studies they examined took bubbles into account in their methane emission measurements — meaning methane emissions are being undercounted.
Reservoir emission estimates that included ebullition in their calculations were on average double those that did not, but the contribution of methane bubbles was “also highly variable, constituting anywhere from 0 to 99.6 percent of total CH4 flux [methane emitted into the atmosphere],” the scientists write.

 “This highlights how crucial it is to measure both types of CH4 emission in order to estimate the total flux from reservoir surface waters.”

The Tucuruí dam spillway on Brazil’s Tocantins River. Additional emissions, not taken into account in the study, include the gases released when water is aerated in turbines and spillways. Scientists argue that United Nations IPCC assessments should include reservoir emissions in their calculations. 

Photo courtesy of International Rivers on flickr under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Reservoir emission mechanisms
What determines how much greenhouse gas a given reservoir emits?

 Previous studies pointed to the importance of latitude, with tropical reservoirs — such as those planned or under construction in the Amazon — counted as emissions heavyweights. 

But this latest study found that mid-latitude reservoirs could be equally high methane emitters.

 Rather than latitude itself being important, methane emissions were best predicted by reservoir nutrient-richness.
If nutrients and organic materials — able to sustain microbial and algal populations — are abundant, methane emissions will be higher. 

This is often the case in tropical forest reservoirs, because a lot of vegetation may be submerged at the time the reservoir is first filled.

 But the authors identified other potentially high methane emitters: reservoirs built in productive agricultural regions at other latitudes — where nutrients and organic matter may leach from catchment areas into the reservoir.
The new research also identified water temperature as being an important factor, with warmer water promoting microbial and algal activity. 

How this will play out as global temperatures rise is uncertain, but the researchers warn that a “potential positive feedback loop” could be created as a warmer global atmosphere heats the planet’s reservoirs.
DelSontro explained that “future climate change, human population pressure, increased agriculture and other land use changes could cause an increase of nutrient input into freshwaters, thereby stimulating production (e.g., algal blooms) and perhaps higher rates of methane emission.”

 More methane in the atmosphere would mean a warmer climate, which could in turn enhance algal and microbial growth in the reservoirs, resulting in more greenhouse gas emissions that would further warm the climate.
The study also highlights other important emission pathways that are not generally taken into account when reservoir emissions are calculated, and that require further study. These include emissions from “drawdown zones,” the areas that are repeatedly exposed and flooded as water levels fluctuate; “degassing” as water is aerated in turbines and spillways; and the decomposition of standing wood, known to be a major contributor to tropical reservoir emissions but not studied elsewhere.

The Mekong River in Laos. Numerous dams are planned or under construction on the Mekong River and its tributaries, despite adverse impacts to riverine communities, fisheries, aquatic habitat and likely greenhouse gas emissions from reservoirs. 

Photo by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay

Global emission budgets
The authors caution that with a near doubling of reservoir area predicted for the coming decades, the benefits of new dams need to be carefully weighed against the costs of building them: 847 large (more than 100 MW) and 2,853 smaller (more than 1 MW) hydropower projects are currently planned or under construction around the world.
Importantly, the greenhouse gases that reservoirs emit should no longer be overlooked in international policy, the researchers argue, but instead be included “in future UN IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] budgets and other inventories of anthropogenic GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions,” particularly as methane emissions have the greatest impact in the first 20 years of a reservoir’s life.
“The role of hydroelectric dams in emissions inventories and in mitigation has been systematically ignored,” and urgently needs to be addressed, wrote Philip Fearnside, of the National Institute for Research in Amazonia, in 2015.
“International Rivers has advocated for reservoir emissions to be included in national greenhouse gas inventories for many years,” Horner added, “and the IPCC should no longer give dam builders a pass when it reconsiders its methodology for such inventories.”
Fearnside highlighted another significant omission in IPCC consideration of reservoir emissions: land-use change such as deforestation, which often accompanies dam construction. Horner raised the same issue: “Hydropower projects, for example, in the Amazon, in Central Africa and in Southeast Asia often open up pristine forest areas to deforestation. The findings of the study are conservative in that they don’t consider the massive emissions from this additional deforestation.”
Beyond greenhouse gas emissions, numerous additional environmental and social impacts often accompany dam development, as seen in the Amazon, the Mekong and elsewhere: communities are displaced, aquatic and terrestrial habitats are irrevocably altered, fisheries negatively impacted, migratory patterns blocked, and water and nutrient cycles disrupted.
Some of the emissions that reservoirs produce can be mitigated if dams are sited upstream of nutrient sources, and if nutrient levels are reduced in reservoir catchment areas, the scientists suggest. Clearing vegetation before inundation is another strategy to reduce the initial spike in methane emissions. However, Horner cautioned, “the cleared biomass will still emit CO2 when it burns or decomposes, and the long-term emissions from organic matter that is deposited in a reservoir can’t be avoided.”

Munduruku warriors gather to oppose new dams in the Tapajós basin of the Amazon. Beyond greenhouse gas emissions, numerous additional environmental and social impacts often accompany dam development, with indigenous and traditional communities displaced, aquatic and terrestrial habitats altered, fisheries negatively impacted, migratory patterns blocked, and water and nutrient cycles disrupted. 

Photo by Mauricio Torres

DelSontro’s ongoing research in the lakes of Quebec suggests that understanding the interaction between temperature and nutrients is important for accurate greenhouse gas emission predictions. “These types of predictors are what some people, including myself, are looking for to better help us make predictions for potential changes to greenhouse gas budgets of freshwaters in the face of global environmental change.”
“As for reservoirs in particular, it is vital to understand that these water bodies have the potential to emit greenhouse gases, even hydroelectric reservoirs that are helping produce a ‘clean’ and ‘green’ form of energy,” she concluded. “Therefore, potential reservoir projects should include an environmental assessment that includes potential greenhouse gas emissions, bearing in mind that emissions from the natural ecosystem must be taken into account.”
Horner takes a bolder stance on new hydropower dams: “At a time when wind and solar power have become cheap and abundant, such greenhouse gas emissions can’t be justified.”
Citation:
Bridget R. Deemer, John A. Harrison, Siyue Li, Jake J. Beaulieu, Tonya DelSontro, Nathan Barros, José F. Bezerra-Neto, Stephen M. Powers, Marco A. Dos Santos, and J. Arie Vonk (2016) Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Reservoir Water Surfaces: A New Global Synthesis. BioScience, 66: 949-964

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