Methane

Indonesia acts to fight #ClimateChange #auspol 

United States President-elect Donald Trump may have labelled climate change a hoax, but that has not stalled the momentum behind last month’s United Nations’ Climate Change Conference in Marrakech, Morocco.

Less than one year after its adoption, the Paris climate agreement has entered into force, with some 175 countries already on board. 

The next step will be to begin implementing the commitments each country has made. 


In South-east Asia in particular, regional cooperation will be critical to address certain issues that transcend national boundaries.
One of the largest obstacles to climate change efforts in South-east Asia remains Indonesia’s forest and peatland fires. Though these fires are perhaps most notorious as the source of the annual haze that blankets our region, they should rightly be framed as a global concern about carbon emissions.
To put things into perspective, Indonesia’s 2015 fires produced the equivalent of 1,750 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (MtCO2e), which is almost the same amount emitted by Indonesia’s entire economy in an average year (1,800 MtCO2e).
Hence, it is heartening that Indonesia has shown resolve in addressing the issue.

 The reduction in fires this year must be credited to not only wetter weather, but also the political will and concerted efforts of the government of President Joko Widodo.
At the peak of the haze crisis last year, Mr Widodo visited South Sumatra to understand the fires first-hand and subsequently established the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) in January 2016. 

The BRG has been charged with coordinating the restoration of 2.1 million hectares of degraded peatland across Indonesia by 2020.
Following orders by Mr Widodo to “get very tough” on errant companies, Indonesian police have arrested more than double the number of individuals in forest fire cases this year compared with last year.
The Indonesian government is also responding faster to fires, enabled by the early declaration of a state of emergency in six provinces. These efforts have been commended by regional leaders, including Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Mr Masagos Zulkifli.
Such measures were crucial in the immediate aftermath of the fires. But the true challenge comes in figuring out how to tackle this complex problem in the long term.
One pressing issue is the ongoing debate over the most appropriate way to restore degraded peatland. Comprised of partially decayed organic matter, peatland is often drained to grow oil palm, acacia trees for pulp and paper, and other agricultural crops. But drained peat is highly flammable during the dry season, resulting in fires that can take months to extinguish.
Some parties contend that the only sustainable way to restore degraded peatland is to rewet, reforest and protect the entire landscape. Otherwise, fires that start on agricultural lands may easily spread into protected areas, destroying intact forests.
Worse still, protected forest will continue to be affected by drainage from surrounding agricultural areas. Drainage causes peatland to subside, causing the land to become flooded and unusable in the long term.
Other parties argue that it is unrealistic to reforest large peatland areas that already contain thousands of villages and extensive industrial plantations, which generate a great deal of employment and economic benefit.
They also point to the fact that there is still a limited market for native peatland crops that do not require drainage — such as jelutong, sago and illipe nut — compared with more commonly grown crops such as oil palm and areca nut.
It appears that the Indonesian government’s approach is to strike a balance between these competing concerns. On Dec 1, Mr Widodo signed a regulation that banned new clearing of peatland for crop cultivation.
Plantations will also be required to set a minimum ratio between cultivation and conservation areas, and lay down guidelines for the proper management of peatland plantations. BRG has plans to rewet areas set aside for conservation and improve their fire readiness by installing wells and monitoring systems.
Now, Indonesia faces the challenge of harmonising these standards across its 12.9 million hectares of peatland, which is likely to be a complex and time-consuming process. In the meantime, the scale and urgency of peatland restoration will require the support of parties from outside Indonesia.
Firstly, collaboration is required to improve and disseminate knowledge about peatland, which remains an under-researched subject. The UN meeting in Marrakech saw the launch of the Global Peatlands Initiative (GPI), the largest international collaboration on peatland to date, which aims to share scientific knowledge to develop local capacity for peatland management. Indonesia is one of the founding members of the GPI.
Closer to home, the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, the World Resources Institute Indonesia and other leading non-governmental organisations in Asean recently organised the Regional Peat Restoration Workshop in Jakarta, which showcased ongoing restoration efforts in order to share learning points with others conducting similar projects.
Secondly, peatland restoration is expensive and will require financial support from other countries. Funding is especially needed to scale up current projects, many of which are still small-scale and experimental, so that they cover entire peat landscapes. This will maximise impact and minimise the conflicts that often result between multiple, smaller projects.
One recently-launched initiative to provide such funding is the Tropical Landscapes Finance Facility. A joint effort between BNP Paribas, ADM Capital and the United Nations Environment Programme, the facility has mobilised over US$1.1 billion (S$1.59 billion) of investments to reverse land degradation, prevent unwise land conversion and improve revenues for small farmers.
Western donors, most notably Norway, have also pledged about US$135 million to support the BRG. Others in the international and regional community can and should add their support.
In the longer term, Indonesia’s strategy involves changing the legal rights for industrial plantations to turn them into ecosystem restoration concessions that finance the restoration of forests and peatlands through the sale of carbon credits, among other methods.
The international community plays a crucial role in developing the market and providing the demand for such credits.

Climate change is rightly seen as an issue that affects all countries. 

Now that Indonesia has taken several important steps to prevent the return of fires, it is vital that other countries begin supporting its efforts.
Though approaches may differ, there is a need to recognise that we are working towards the same goal and that there are significant areas of overlap to work on. The need is urgent and we must not lose the valuable momentum that has been built up so far behind forest and peatland restoration.

Press link for more:ClimateChange.searca.org

Massive Permafrost thaw in Nortwest Canada. #ClimateChange #auspol 

Huge slabs of Arctic permafrost in northwest Canada are slumping and disintegrating, sending large amounts of carbon-rich mud and silt into streams and rivers. 

A new study that analyzed nearly a half-million square miles in northwest Canada found that this permafrost decay is affecting 52,000 square miles of that vast stretch of earth—an expanse the size of Alabama.

According to researchers with the Northwest Territories Geological Survey, the permafrost collapse is intensifying and causing landslides into rivers and lakes that can choke off life downstream, all the way to where the rivers discharge into the Pacific Ocean.
Similar large-scale landscape changes are evident across the Arctic including in Alaska, Siberia and Scandinavia, the researchers wrote in a paper published in the journal Geology in early February. The study didn’t address the issue of greenhouse gas releases from thawing permafrost.

 But its findings will help quantify the immense global scale of the thawing, which will contribute to more accurate estimates of carbon emissions.


Sink hole in Siberia

Permafrost is land that has been frozen stretching back to the last ice age, 10,000 years ago.

 As the Arctic warms at twice the global rate, the long-frozen soils thaw and decompose, releasing the trapped greenhouse gases into the air.

 Scientists estimate that the world’s permafrost holds twice as much carbon as the atmosphere.


Melting Permafrost in Siberia 
The new study was aimed at measuring the geographical scope of thawing permafrost in northwest Canada. 

Using satellite images and other data, the team studied the edge of the former Laurentide Ice Sheet, a vast expanse of ice that covered two-thirds of North America during the last ice age. 

The disintegration of the permafrost was visible in 40- to 60-mile wide swaths of terrain, showing that, “extensive landscapes remain poised for major climate-driven change.” 
“Things have really taken off. 

Climate warming is now making that happen. 

It’s exactly what we should expect with climate change,” said Steven V. Kokelj, lead scientist on the Canadian mapping project. 

“And the maps that we produced clearly indicated it’s not just a random pattern. 

We’re sort of connecting dots here for the scientific community.”
Other global evidence of similar large-scale permafrost changes have recently been documented in Siberia, where scientists with the Permafrost Laboratory at the University of Sussex (UK) are monitoring another rapidly growing scar in the earth. 

More than a half-mile of once-frozen ground has collapsed 280-feet deep, according to their study published in in the journal Quaternary Research in February.

 The researchers said they expect to see the rolling tundra landscape transform, including the formation of large new valleys and lakes.
Similar signs are evident in coastal Arctic areas, where thawing permafrost and bigger waves are taking 60- to 70-foot bites of land each year, according to researchers with the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. 

Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change in January, AWI scientists warned about collapsing coastlines and urged more research, with input from policymakers and native communities.
University of Alberta scientists Suzanne Tank, who was not involved in the new study, said that the release of sediments from the new slumps in the Canadian permafrost has significant ecological implications.

 The pulses of silt, mud and gravel make streams murkier and limit growth of aquatic plants at the base of the food chain. Exactly how that affects other species, including fish, is the subject of ongoing research.
Scientists know thawing permafrost unlocks carbon.

 But according to Tank, most of the carbon in the Canadian melting is being released quickly as coarse particles that aren’t converted to CO2 immediately. 

But separate research by Swedish scientists suggests that the soil particles are quickly converted to heat-trapping CO2 when they are swept into the sea.
A series of studies on the National Institute of Health’s Arctic Health website documents how the widespread thaw of permafrost is already having direct impacts on people.

 Warmer water and increased sediment loads are harming lake trout, an important source of food for native communities. Changes to the land surface are also disrupting caribou breeding and migration, and in some places, the disappearing permafrost has destroyed traditional food storage cellars, researchers have found.
At lower latitudes, permafrost is the glue that holds the world’s highest mountains together by keeping rocks and soil frozen in place. Scientists are documenting how those bonds are dissolving, said Stefan Reisenhofer, a climate scientist with the Austrian Bureau of Meteorology and Geodynamics.
“We’ve seen a significant reduction in the number of ice days (those with 24 hours of sub-freezing temperatures), especially in the summer months,” said Reisenhofer, who works at a climate observatory at an elevation of 8,500 feet. “From 2010 to 2014, the number of ice days decreased by 11 in May, and 10 in June.” During that span, the mountain beneath the research station crumbled, requiring a huge investment to stabilize the outpost, he said.
Using satellite images from the European Space Agency’s Copernicus program, the Austrian researchers have shown how, similar to the findings in Canada, thawing permafrost has unleashed huge amounts of sediments below receding glaciers. Intensifying summer rainstorms have triggered huge landslides, damaging roads, power lines and water infrastructure, according to a recent evaluation of satellite images by Austrian climate researchers.
In some areas, there are new restrictions on development as the landslides grow bigger, reaching all the way to the valley floors.

Press link for more: Inside Climate.news.org

Open Letter to President Trump on Climate Change #auspol #science

Hingham couple pens open letter to President Trump on climate change
By John and Sally Davenport Hingham Journal

As we believe you must know in your heart of hearts, human-caused climate change is not a hoax.

 Virtually no one believes that climate change is not occurring. 

The globe is warming even faster than climate scientists have predicted, particularly at the poles where the ice is melting at an alarming rate. 


The overwhelming view of the scientific community world-wide is that global climate change is being caused by humans through the burning of fossil fuels and the release into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses. (The warming effect of atmospheric carbon dioxide has been known since the mid-19th century.) 

Most climate models show that, if carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, global temperatures will rise to potentially catastrophic levels by 2100.
These scientists from all over the world do not have any political axe to grind or financial stake in whether climate change is or is not caused by humans. 

They have no interest in participating in the perpetration of a hoax. 

Even climate scientists employed by oil and gas giant Exxon Mobil were unanimous in their advice to their employer, beginning in the 1970s, that the burning of its products was causing global warming.

Studies have shown that the widespread skepticism among conservatives about human-caused climate change stems from their dislike of governmental regulation and international commitments, not from doubt about the accuracy of the climate change science. Otherwise, why would Republicans generally reject the science while Democrats do not? (Republicans and Democrats alike agree about the validity of other, politically neutral, science, such as their own doctors’ science-based medical advice).
The science must be separated from the politics.

 The political debate must not be about the validity of the science of human-caused global warming; let the climate scientists debate that.

 Rather, the political debate must be about what to do about it, ranging from nothing, to promoting renewable energy and stimulating growth of the green economy, to limiting carbon dioxide emissions, to implementing a cap and trade regime. Then there can be a healthy policy debate about the impact of such measures on the economy and their effectiveness in avoiding catastrophic climate change.

Pulling out of the Paris accord and revoking the Clean Power Plan and other measures put in place by prior administrations to curb greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change in the hope that the climate scientists are wrong or overly pessimistic is the equivalent of playing Russian roulette, with possible consequences less instantaneous but infinitely more catastrophic. Arguing about the degree of certainty in the climate change projections is like arguing about whether to play the game with five bullets in the six-shooter or just two or three.
Abandoning governmental actions to curb global warming will be a terrible legacy for you and your administration to leave to our children and grandchildren, to the country, and to the world.
John and Sally Davenport 

Press link for more: Hingham.wickedlocal.com

Siberia’s doorway to the Underworld is Getting Bigger. #ClimateChange #auspol #science 

Siberia’s ‘doorway to the Underworld’ Is Getting So Big It’s Uncovering Ancient Forests

A doorway to 200,000 years ago.
It’s no secret that Siberia’s permafrost has been on thin ice lately. Conditions are varying so much that huge holes are appearing out of nowhere, and, in some places, tundra is quite literally bubbling underneath people’s feet.
But new research has revealed that one of the biggest craters in the region, known by the local Yakutian people as the ‘doorway to the underworld’, is growing so rapidly that it’s uncovering long-buried forests, carcasses, and up to 200,000 years of historical climate records.
Known as the Batagaika crater, it’s what’s officially called a ‘megaslump’ or ‘thermokarst’.
Many of these megaslumps have been appearing across Siberia in recent years, but researchers think Batagaika could be something of an anomaly in the region, located around 660 km (410 miles) north-east of the region’s capital city of Yakutsk.
Not only is the crater already the largest of its kind, almost 1 km (0.6 miles) long and 86 metres (282 feet) deep, but it’s getting bigger all the time.


Alexandra  Gabyshev, Research Institute of Applied Ecology of the North
Research presented last year by Frank Günther from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany revealed that the head wall of the crater has grown by an average of 10 metres (33 feet) per year over the past decade of observations.

 And in warmer years, the growth has been up to 30 metres (98 feet) per year.
The team also suspects that the side wall of the crater will reach a neighbouring valley in the coming months as temperatures heat up in the Northern Hemisphere, which could lead to even more land collapse.
“On average over many years, we have seen that there’s not so much acceleration or deceleration of these rates, it’s continuously growing,” Günther told Melissa Hogenboom from the BBC. 

“And continuous growth means that the crater gets deeper and deeper every year.”
That’s not great news for climate change.

 The crater formation first started after a large chunk of forest was cleared nearby in the 1960s.
Because the ground was no longer shaded in the warm, summer months, it heated up more rapidly than it had in the past, eventually causing the permafrost to melt and the ground to collapse. 

Major flooding in 2008 made the melting even worse, and contributed to the size of the crater.

inside batagaika closeupAlexander Gabyshev, Research Institute of Applied Ecology of the North
The instability of the region isn’t just dangerous for locals, there are also concerns that as the hole gets deeper and larger, it will expose carbon stores that have been locked away for thousands of years.
“Global estimations of carbon stored in permafrost is [the] same amount as what’s in the atmosphere,” Günther told the BBC.
As the crater continues to melt, these greenhouse gases could be released into the atmosphere, triggering more warming.
“This is what we call positive feedback,” added Günther.

 “Warming accelerates warming, and these features may develop in other places. 
But it’s not all terrible news.

 A study published this month in the journal Quaternary Research has shown that the layers exposed by the crater could now reveal 200,000 years of climate data.
That’s in addition to the preserved remains of long-buried forests, ancient pollen samples, and even the frozen remains of a musk ox, mammoth, and a 4,400-year-old horse.
Here’s some ancient tree remains in the melting permafrost:

Julian Murton
The research was led by Julian Murton from the University of Sussex, who says the exposed sediment could be useful for understanding how the climate of Siberia changed in the past, and predicting how it will change in the future.
While most of the planet went through periods of cooling and warming over the past 200,000 years, the climate history of Siberia is vastly unknown.
But according to Murton, the last time Siberia saw this kind of slumping occur was around 10,000 years ago, as Earth transitioned out of its last Ice Age.
And today greenhouse gas levels in our atmosphere are much higher than they were back then – we’re now at 400 parts per million CO2, compared to 280 parts per million when the last Ice Age ended.
“The Batagaika site contains a remarkably thick sequence of permafrost deposits, which include two wood-rich layers interpreted as forest beds that indicate past climates about as warm or warmer than today’s climate,” Murton told Sarah Emerson over at Motherboard last year.
“The upper forest bed overlies an old land surface that was eroded, probably when permafrost thawed in a past episode of climate warming.”
If the researchers can use this information to understand exactly what happened to Siberia last time the permafrost melted, we might be able to better prepare for when it happens again.
But there’s more research that needs to be done – the exact dates of the sediment that have been exposed in the crater still aren’t known, Murton told Hogenboom.
He’s now planning to drill bore holes in the region to analyse more sediment and get a more accurate understanding of what happened in the past.
“Ultimately, we’re trying to see if climate change during the last Ice Age [in Siberia] was characterised by a lot of variability: warming and cooling, warming and cooling as occurred in the North Atlantic region,” says Murton.
The research has been published in Quaternary Research.

Press link for more: Science Alert.com

It’s More Than Just Climate Change #auspol 

It’s More than Just Climate Change
Study shows climate change is one of many inter-related threats to natural systems and human societies, with other interconnnected factors being economic inequality, consumption and population
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (PRWEB) February 24, 2017
A recent scientific paper by a University of Maryland-led international team of distinguished scientists, including five members of the National Academies, argues that there are critical two-way feedbacks missing from current climate models that are used to inform environmental, climate, and economic policies.

 The most important inadequately-modeled variables are inequality, consumption, and population.
In this research, the authors present extensive evidence of the need for a new paradigm of modeling that incorporates the feedbacks that the Earth system has on humans, and propose a framework for future modeling that would serve as a more realistic guide for policy making and sustainable development.

The large, interdisciplinary team of 20 coauthors are from a number of universities (University of Maryland, Northeastern University, Columbia University, George Mason University, Johns Hopkins University, and Brown University) and other institutions (Joint Global Change Research Institute, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, the Institute for Global Environment and Society, Japan’s RIKEN research institute, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center).
The study explains that the Earth System (e.g., atmosphere, ocean, land, and biosphere) provides the Human System (e.g., humans and their production, distribution, and consumption) not only the sources of its inputs (e.g., water, energy, biomass, and materials) but also the sinks (e.g., atmosphere, oceans, rivers, lakes, and lands) that absorb and process its outputs (e.g., emissions, pollution, and other wastes).
Titled “Modeling Sustainability: Population, Inequality, Consumption, and Bidirectional Coupling of the Earth and Human Systems”, the article describes how the recent rapid growth in resource use, land-use change, emissions, and pollution has made humanity the dominant driver of change in most of the Earth’s natural systems, and how these changes, in turn, have critical feedback effects on humans with costly and serious consequences, including on human health and well-being, economic growth and development, and even human migration and societal conflict. However, the paper argues that these two-way interactions (“bidirectional coupling”) are not included in the current models.

The Oxford University Press’s multidisciplinary journal National Science Review, which published the paper, also highlighted the paper in a separate “Research Highlight”, pointing out that “the rate of change of atmospheric concentrations of CO2, CH4, and N2O [the primary greenhouse gases] increased by over 700, 1000, and 300 times (respectively) in the period after the Green Revolution when compared to pre-industrial rates.” See attached figure.
“Many datasets, for example, the data for the total concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases, show that human population has been a strong driver of the total impact of humans on our planet Earth. This is seen particularly after the two major accelerating regime shifts: Industrial Revolution (~1750) and Green Revolution (~1950)” said Safa Motesharrei, UMD systems scientist and lead author of the paper. “For the most recent time, we show that the total impact has grown on average ~4 percent between 1950 and 2010, with almost equal contributions from population growth (~1.7 percent) and GDP per capita growth (~2.2 percent). This corresponds to a doubling of the total impact every ~17 years. This doubling of the impact is shockingly rapid.”
“However, these human impacts can only truly be understood within the context of economic inequality,” pointed out political scientist and co-author Jorge Rivas of the Institute for Global Environment and Society.

 “The average per capita resource use in wealthy countries is 5 to 10 times higher than in developing countries, and the developed countries are responsible for over three quarters of cumulative greenhouse gas emissions from 1850 to 2000.”
“The disparity is even greater when inequality within countries is included,” added University of Maryland geographer and coauthor Klaus Hubacek.

 “For example, about 50 percent of the world’s people live on less than $3 per day, 75 percent on less than $8.50, and 90 percent on less than $23. One effect of this inequality is that the top 10 percent produce almost as much total carbon emissions as the bottom 90 percent combined.”


The study explains that increases in economic inequality, consumption per capita, and total population are all driving this rapid growth in human impact, but that the major scientific models of Earth-Human System interaction do not bidirectionally couple Earth System Models with the primary Human System drivers of change such as demographics, inequality, economic growth, and migration.
Instead of two-way coupling with these primary human drivers of change, the researchers argue that current models usually use independent, external projections of those drivers. “This lack of two-way coupling makes current models likely to miss critical feedbacks in the combined Earth-Human system”, said National Academy of Engineering member and co-author Eugenia Kalnay, a Distinguished University Professor of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science at the University of Maryland.
“It would be like trying to predict El Niño with a sophisticated atmospheric model but with the Sea Surface Temperatures taken from external, independent projections by, for example, the United Nations. 

Without including the real feedbacks, predictions for coupled systems cannot work; the model will get away from reality very quickly,” said Kalnay
In this new scientific research, the authors present extensive evidence of the need for a new paradigm of modeling that incorporates the feedbacks that the Earth System has on humans, and propose a framework for future modeling that would serve as a more realistic guide for policymaking and sustainable development.


“Ignoring this bidirectional coupling of the Earth and Human Systems can lead to missing something important, even decisive, for the fate of our planet and our species,” said co-author Mark Cane, G. Unger Vetlesen Professor of Earth and Climate Sciences at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who recently won the Vetlesen Prize for creating the first coupled ocean–atmosphere model with feedbacks that successfully predicted El Niño.
“The result of not dynamically modeling these critical Human-Earth System feedbacks would be that the environmental challenges humanity faces may be significantly underestimated. Moreover, there’s no explicit role given to policies and investments to actively shape the course in which the dynamics unfold. Rather, as the models are designed now, any intervention — almost by definition — comes from the outside and is perceived as a cost,” said co-author Matthias Ruth, Director and Professor at the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, Northeastern University. “Such modeling, and the mindset that goes with it, leaves no room for creativity in solving some of the most pressing challenges.”
”The paper correctly highlights that other human stressors, not only the climate ones, are very important for long-term sustainability, including the need to reduce inequality”, said Carlos Nobre (not a co-author), one of the world’s leading Earth System scientists, who recently won the prestigious Volvo Environment Prize in Sustainability for his role in understanding and protecting the Amazon. ”Social and economic equality empowers societies to engage in sustainable pathways, which includes, by the way, not only the sustainable use of natural resources but also slowing down population growth, to actively diminish the human footprint on the environment.”
Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, who is not a co-author of the paper, commented: “We cannot separate the issues of population growth, resource consumption, the burning of fossil fuels, and climate risk. 

They are part of a coupled dynamical system, and, as the authors show, this has dire potential consequences for societal collapse. 

The implications couldn’t be more profound.”
This work was supported by the University of Maryland Council on the Environment 2014 Seed Grant (1357928). The authors would like to acknowledge the following grants and institutions: SM, KF, and KH: National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC)–US National Science Foundation (NSF) award DBI-1052875; JR: The Institute of Global Environment and Society (IGES); GRA: Laboratory Directed Research and Development award by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which is managed by the Battelle Memorial Institute for the US Department of Energy; MAC: Office of Naval Research, research grant MURI N00014-12-1-0911; FMW: NSF award CBET-1541642; VMY: The Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET).
“Modeling Sustainability: Population, Inequality, Consumption, and Bidirectional Coupling of the Earth and Human Systems” is available at: https://academic.oup.com/nsr/article/doi/10.1093/nsr/nww081/2669331/Modeling-Sustainability-Population-Inequality and https://doi.org/10.1093/nsr/nww081; or PDF https://academic.oup.com/nsr/article-pdf/3/4/470/10325470/nww081.pdf
UMD Web Release
For the original version on PRWeb visit: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2017/02/prweb14095379.htm

Press link for more: My Sanantonio.com

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

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

Clean Coal is an OXYMORON #auspol 

‘Clean coal’ is an oxymoron


Rep. Ralph Watts’ Iowa View piece [Trump can bring back coal, Jan. 27] tries to support the continued use of coal by using Trump’s success to justify junk science and the status quo. 

The EPA and the open-minded can see the truth in climate change, and that we should make every effort to save our planet. 


It is ludicrous to save jobs for coal miners but in the process speed up climate change, which is caused by increasing levels of CO2 from the burning and processing of fossil fuels. 

The level of CO2 in our atmosphere has gone from 280 to 400 parts per million in my lifetime.

 That number had not been above 280 in 400,000 years.


I am a mechanical engineer and worked for our local utility on various projects at coal-fired power plants for 35 years. Clean coal is almost an oxymoron. 

To be completely pollution-free, the CO2 from burning coal would have to be captured and disposed of, and that is expensive and requires a lot of power and equipment.


Trump and his fellow travelers will set our environmental programs back more than the the four years he may be be in office. 

The effects of climate change are minor now, but the weather changes and possible anarchy 20 years from now won’t be nice. 

I’m glad I won’t be here to see it. 

What’s sad is it could be prevented.
— Tom Benge, Bettendorf

Press link for more: Desmoine Register

Coal is nothing to joke about. #auspol #climatechange 

Coal will kill more people than World War II. Why do our ministers joke about it?
While the numbers are not yet in on Australia’s latest heatwave summer – one of the worst in our history – between 1100 and 1500 people will have died from heat stress.

 That’s been the average of recent years.

When Treasurer Scott Morrison jovially informed the House of Representatives “Mr Speaker, this is coal. 

Don’t be afraid!

 Don’t be scared! 

It won’t hurt you,” he was, according to all reputable scientific and medical studies worldwide, misleading the Parliament.

By mid-century, the effects of worldwide burning of coal and oil in heating the climate to new extremes will claim more than 50,000 Australian lives per decade, a toll nearly double that of World War II.
And that doesn’t include the 12.6 million human lives lost globally every year (a quarter of all deaths), according to the World Health Organisation, from “air, water and soil pollution, chemical exposures, climate change, and ultraviolet radiation”, all of which are a consequence of human use of fossil fuels. 

The main sources of those toxins are, indisputably, the coal and petrochemical industries.
To pretend, as do Morrison and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, that this is all a great joke shows a cynical and contemptible disregard for the sufferings and painful deaths of thousands of Australians from exposure to the effects of fossil fuels. 

Understanding of the toxicity of burnt fossil hydrocarbons has been around since the 19th-century industrial revolution. The climatic effect of fossil fuels has been accepted universally by world climate and weather authorities since the mid-1970s – almost half a century ago.

Yet certain Australian politicians and leaders still pretend they are ignorant of facts that are known to everyone else. And they jeer at Australians with the common sense not to want to die from them.

As eastern Australia sweltered through the recent 40 to 47-degree heatwave and elderly people who couldn’t afford to switch on their air conditioners for fear of the power bills suffered and died, floods and bushfires related to the same climatic disturbance claimed further victims.
The Australian Climate Institute warned politicians a decade ago that the death toll from heat stress alone was then about 1100 in the five cities of Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. 

Nationally, the number is now probably 1500 to 2000 a year – but no national records are kept, perhaps for obvious reasons.

Scott Morrison with his pet coal in Parliament.

Scott Morrison with his pet coal in Parliament. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The institute said at the time: “With no action to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, Australia is projected to warm by between 0.4 to 2.0 degrees by 2030 and 1.0 to 6.0 degrees by 2070. This warming trend is expected to drive large increases in the frequency, intensity and duration of extreme temperature events. For example, by 2030, the yearly average number of days above 35 degrees could increase from 17 to 19-29 in Adelaide and from 9 to 10-16 in Melbourne.”
According to more recent projections – such as, for example, those of Professor Peng Bi of Adelaide University – annual heat-related deaths in the capital cities are predicted to climb to an average of 2400 a year in the 2020s and 5300 a year in the 2050s. And that’s just in the capital cities.
Added to deaths from fire, flood, cyclone and pollution-related conditions such as cancer and lung diseases, fossil fuels will be far and away the predominant factor in the early deaths of Australians by mid-century. Not a single family will be unaffected by their influence.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Abbott/Turnbull governments’ policy – promoting the use and export of coal, trying to discourage its replacement by clean renewables and foot-dragging on climate remediation measures – has dreadful consequences in the short, medium and long term for individuals and families.
We want to know the road toll – but not the fuel toll.
Directly and indirectly, these policies will contribute to the loss of far more Australians than did the combined policies of the Hitler/Hirohito governments in the 1940s (27,000). They will cost many thousands more Australian lives than terrorism. Yet ministers treat them as a jest.
While it’s true Australia’s emissions, from fossil-fuel burning, mining and exports, are a small percentage of world emissions, they nevertheless contribute meaningfully to a situation that, unchecked, could see the planet heat by 5 to 6 degrees by 2100. 

If the frozen methane deposits in the Arctic and ocean are released, then warming may exceed 10 degrees, beyond which large animals, including humans, will struggle to exist.
With such temperatures and climatic extremes, it will become impossible to maintain world food production from agriculture. 

Hundreds of millions of refugees will flood the planet. 

According to the US Pentagon, there is a high risk of international conflict, even nuclear war, in such conditions.

These are the rational, evidence-based truths that politicians like Morrison and Joyce gleefully ignore in their enthusiasm for coal. Indeed, Joyce is advocating a course likely to ruin his party’s main long-term constituency: farmers.
Australians rightly regard deaths from motor accidents, suicide, domestic violence, preventable disease, war, drugs and other causes as tragic, unjustifiable, unacceptable and unnecessary. Yet there is a curious national silence, a wilful blindness, about the far larger toll of preventable death from coal and oil. We want to know the road toll – but not the fuel toll. This national ignorance encouraged by dishonest claims that they “won’t hurt you”.
Yes, they will. Coal and oil will hurt you worse than almost anything else in your life.

 They will reap your family, and maybe you, too.
When there are clean, safe, healthy substitute readily available – renewables, biofuels, green chemistry – sensible Australians will turn their back on the untruths and the propaganda, and vote only for politicians whose policies do not knowingly encompass our early death.
Julian Cribb is a Canberra science writer and author. His latest book is Surviving the 21st Century (2017).

On the science of Climate Change #auspol

On the science of climate change
In an interview last week, Computer Science professor David Gelernter told the News: “For human beings to change the climate of the planet is a monstrously enormous undertaking…I haven’t seen convincing evidence of it” (“Gelernter, potential science advisor to Trump, denies man-made climate change,” Jan. 25, 2017). Gelernter is widely rumored to be in consideration for the position of President Donald Trump’s science adviser, and his comments insinuate that human activity is insufficient to cause such change.

While we agree with Gelernter’s premise about the magnitude of human activity needed to alter the planetary climate system, we disagree with his conclusions.

 In consulting peer-reviewed scientific literature, we find that the energy expended by billions of people over nearly two centuries is in fact a significant climatological and geological force.
Carbon dioxide (CO2), along with other carbon-bearing molecules in the atmosphere such as methane, is a greenhouse gas that warms the planet — a relationship that has been known since the release of a classic study by Svante Arrhenius in 1896, and which has been confirmed by numerous independent experiments.

 


CO2 levels have now risen above 400 parts per million by volume, relative to a pre-industrial value of about 280 ppmv. That difference corresponds to about 250 billion tons of carbon added to the atmosphere. 

 Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a 2007 global inventory of fossil fuel combustion, cement production and land-use changes such as deforestation indicates that humans have emitted about 500 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere since 1850. 

This is indeed a “monstrously enormous” figure. 
 It is so enormous that the abrupt atmospheric CO2 rise, reaching levels substantially higher — and at a pace far faster —than those of natural glacial-interglacial cycles, represents only half of the anthropogenic effects on Earth’s carbon cycle. The other half of the emitted carbon has been taken up in roughly equal measures by the land surface and the oceans. 

As a result, the oceans have been slowly acidifying.
How sensitive is global climate to CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere?

 The connection is quantified using a factor called the “climate sensitivity,” which is the number of degrees Celsius rise caused by each doubling of CO2.

 “Sensitivity” is an appropriate term given that even small variations of greenhouse gases can lead to either a completely ice-covered or totally ice-free Earth; as illustrated by many computer simulations of climate, including a pioneering 1992 study by Ken Caldeira and James F. Kasting. 


 The climate sensitivity factor combines the summed effects of ocean heat uptake, changes in atmospheric humidity, as well as changes in clouds and planetary reflectivity. Climate sensitivity is not constant under all conditions; the estimates summarized by Reto Knutti and Gabriel C. Hegerl in 2008 range within 2-5 degrees Celsius per CO2 doubling.
It should be no surprise, then, that during the same industrial-era time interval when atmospheric CO2 rose by nearly 50%, the averaged global temperature has risen by about 1 degree Celsius, as documented by a team of scientists from Oregon State and Harvard in 2013.

According to a 2004 study by R.J. Klee and T.E. Graedel, carbon emissions are just one example among many cases where human activity has mobilized geological materials at rates far exceeding natural processes. Our species has become uniquely powerful in its environmental potency. Those who deny an anthropogenic cause of global warming have been called “climate skeptics,” a euphemistic term that would appear to give them an elevated ethical standing in critical thought. Based on our consideration of well-documented scientific research, and like the vast majority of Earth scientists — as documented in a 2016 study in the journal Environmental Research Letters — we reject the hypothesis that human carbon emissions have had zero effect on global climate.
We welcome rational discussion on this issue, grounded in reference to peer-reviewed studies by researchers with a long-term and serious engagement in climate science. Skepticism expressed for its own sake — without factual knowledge — does not contribute to scientific advancement and does not belong in the conversation.
David Evans is a professor of Geology & Geophysics. The column is jointly written with 18 other faculty members in the department: Jay Ague, David Bercovici, Ruth Blake, William Boos, Mark Brandon, Alexey Fedorov, Pincelli Hull, Jun Korenaga, Kanani Lee, Maureen Long, Jeffrey Park, Noah Planavsky, Alan Rooney, Brian Skinner, Ronald Smith, Trude Storelvmo, Mary-Louise Timmermans and John Wettlaufer. 

Press link for more: Yale Daily News