Renewable Energy

The Dance of Death #climatechange #neoliberalism #auspol 

The Dance of Death

By Chris Hedges

The ruling corporate elites no longer seek to build.

 They seek to destroy. 

They are agents of death. 

They crave the unimpeded power to cannibalize the country and pollute and degrade the ecosystem to feed an insatiable lust for wealth, power and hedonism. 

Wars and military “virtues” are celebrated.

 Intelligence, empathy and the common good are banished.

 Culture is degraded to patriotic kitsch.

 Education is designed only to instill technical proficiency to serve the poisonous engine of corporate capitalism. 

Historical amnesia shuts us off from the past, the present and the future.

 Those branded as unproductive or redundant are discarded and left to struggle in poverty or locked away in cages. 

State repression is indiscriminant and brutal.

 And, presiding over the tawdry Grand Guignol is a deranged ringmaster tweeting absurdities from the White House.

The graveyard of world empires—Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mayan, Khmer, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian—followed the same trajectory of moral and physical collapse.

 Those who rule at the end of empire are psychopaths, imbeciles, narcissists and deviants, the equivalents of the depraved Roman emperors Caligula, Nero, Tiberius and Commodus.

 The ecosystem that sustains the empire is degraded and exhausted. 

Economic growth, concentrated in the hands of corrupt elites, is dependent on a crippling debt peonage imposed on the population.

 The bloated ruling class of oligarchs, priests, courtiers, mandarins, eunuchs, professional warriors, financial speculators and corporate managers sucks the marrow out of society.
The elites’ myopic response to the looming collapse of the natural world and the civilization is to make subservient populations work harder for less, squander capital in grandiose projects such as pyramids, palaces, border walls and fracking, and wage war.

 President Trump’s decision to increase military spending by $54 billion and take the needed funds out of the flesh of domestic programs typifies the behavior of terminally ill civilizations. 

When the Roman Empire fell, it was trying to sustain an army of half a million soldiers that had become a parasitic drain on state resources.
“The death instinct, called Thanatos by post-Freudians, is driven by fear, hatred and violence.”
The complex bureaucratic mechanisms that are created by all civilizations ultimately doom them. 

The difference now, as Joseph Tainter points out in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” is that “collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. 

No longer can any individual nation collapse. 

World civilization will disintegrate as a whole.”
Civilizations in decline, despite the palpable signs of decay around them, remain fixated on restoring their “greatness.” 

Their illusions condemn them. 

They cannot see that the forces that gave rise to modern civilization, namely technology, industrial violence and fossil fuels, are the same forces that are extinguishing it.

 Their leaders are trained only to serve the system, slavishly worshipping the old gods long after these gods begin to demand millions of sacrificial victims.
“Hope drives us to invent new fixes for old messes, which in turn create even more dangerous messes,” Ronald Wright writes in “A Short History of Progress.” “Hope elects the politician with the biggest empty promise; and as any stockbroker or lottery seller knows, most of us will take a slim hope over prudent and predictable frugality. Hope, like greed, fuels the engine of capitalism.” 
The Trump appointees—Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson, Steve Mnuchin, Betsy DeVos, Wilbur Ross, Rick Perry, Alex Acosta and others—do not advocate innovation or reform. They are Pavlovian dogs that salivate before piles of money. They are hard-wired to steal from the poor and loot federal budgets. Their single-minded obsession with personal enrichment drives them to dismantle any institution or abolish any law or regulation that gets in the way of their greed. Capitalism, Karl Marx wrote, is “a machine for demolishing limits.” There is no internal sense of proportion or scale. Once all external impediments are lifted, global capitalism ruthlessly commodifies human beings and the natural world to extract profit until exhaustion or collapse. And when the last moments of a civilization arrive, the degenerate edifices of power appear to crumble overnight.
Sigmund Freud wrote that societies, along with individuals, are driven by two primary instincts. One is the instinct for life, Eros, the quest to love, nurture, protect and preserve. The second is the death instinct. The death instinct, called Thanatos by post-Freudians, is driven by fear, hatred and violence.

 It seeks the dissolution of all living things, including our own beings. One of these two forces, Freud wrote, is always ascendant. Societies in decline enthusiastically embrace the death instinct, as Freud observed in “Civilization and Its Discontents,” written on the eve of the rise of European fascism and World War II. 
“It is in sadism, where the death instinct twists the erotic aim in its own sense and yet at the same time fully satisfies the erotic urge, that we succeed in obtaining the clearest insight into its nature and its relation to Eros,” Freud wrote. “But even where it emerges without any sexual purpose, in the blindest fury of destructiveness, we cannot fail to recognize that the satisfaction of the instinct is accompanied by an extraordinary high degree of narcissistic enjoyment, owing to its presenting the ego with a fulfillment of the latter’s old wishes for omnipotence.”
The lust for death, as Freud understood, is not, at first, morbid. It is exciting and seductive. I saw this in the wars I covered. A god-like power and adrenaline-driven fury, even euphoria, sweep over armed units and ethnic or religious groups given the license to destroy anything and anyone around them. Ernst Juenger captured this “monstrous desire for annihilation” in his World War I memoir, “Storm of Steel.”
A population alienated and beset by despair and hopelessness finds empowerment and pleasure in an orgy of annihilation that soon morphs into self-annihilation. It has no interest in nurturing a world that has betrayed it and thwarted its dreams. It seeks to eradicate this world and replace it with a mythical landscape. It turns against institutions, as well as ethnic and religious groups, that are scapegoated for its misery. It plunders diminishing natural resources with abandon. It is seduced by the fantastic promises of demagogues and the magical solutions characteristic of the Christian right or what anthropologists call “crisis cults.”
Norman Cohn, in “The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Messianism in Medieval and Reformation Europe and Its Bearing on Modern Totalitarian Movements,” draws a link between that turbulent period and our own. Millennial movements are a peculiar, collective psychological response to profound societal despair. They recur throughout human history. We are not immune.
“These movements have varied in tone from the most violent aggressiveness to the mildest pacifism and in aim from the most ethereal spirituality to the most earth-bound materialism; there is no counting the possible ways of imagining the Millennium and the route to it,” Cohen wrote. “But similarities can present themselves as well as differences; and the more carefully one compares the outbreaks of militant social chiliasm during the later Middle Ages with modern totalitarian movements the more remarkable the similarities appear. The old symbols and the old slogans have indeed disappeared, to be replaced by new ones; but the structure of the basic phantasies seems to have changed scarcely at all.”
These movements, Cohen wrote, offered “a coherent social myth which was capable of taking entire possession of those who believed in it. It explained their suffering, it promised them recompense, it held their anxieties at bay, it gave them an illusion of security—even while it drove them, held together by a common enthusiasm, on a quest which was always vain and often suicidal.
“So it came about that multitudes of people acted out with fierce energy a shared phantasy which though delusional yet brought them such intense emotional relief that they could live only through it and were perfectly willing to die for it. It is a phenomenon which was to recur many times between the eleventh century and the sixteenth century, now in one area, now in another, and which, despite the obvious differences in cultural context and in scale, is not irrelevant to the growth of totalitarian movements, with their messianic leaders, their millennial mirages and their demon-scapegoats, in the present century.”
The severance of a society from reality, as ours has been severed from collective recognition of the severity of climate change and the fatal consequences of empire and deindustrialization, leaves it without the intellectual and institutional mechanisms to confront its impending mortality. It exists in a state of self-induced hypnosis and self-delusion. It seeks momentary euphoria and meaning in tawdry entertainment and acts of violence and destruction, including against people who are demonized and blamed for society’s demise. It hastens its self-immolation while holding up the supposed inevitability of a glorious national resurgence. Idiots and charlatans, the handmaidens of death, lure us into the abyss.

Press link for more: commondreams.com

Wind is blowing coal & nuclear away. #auspol 

Wind Power Blows Through Nuclear, Coal as Costs Drop at Sea
Falling costs make offshore turbines increasingly attractive
Germany may see record low price bid in auction in April

A wind turbine in the waters off Block Island, Rhode Island, U.S.
Photographer: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg

Water and electric power plants don’t mix well naturally, unless you add some wind.
Water tends to corrode and short out circuits. So what’s happening in the the renewable energy industry, where developers are putting jumbo-jet sized wind turbines into stormy seas, is at the very least an engineering miracle. 
What might be even more miraculous to skeptics like those populating Donald Trump’s administration is that these multi-billion-dollar mega projects make increasing economic sense, even compared to new coal and nuclear power.
“If you have a sufficiently large site with the right wind speeds, then I do believe you can build offshore wind at least at the same price as new build coal in many places around the world including the U.S.,” said Henrik Poulsen, chief executive officer of Dong Energy A/S, the Danish utility that has pioneered the technology and has become the world’s biggest installer of windmills at sea.
Across Europe, the price of building an offshore wind farm has fallen 46 percent in the last five years — 22 percent last year alone. Erecting turbines in the seabed now costs an average $126 for each megawatt-hour of capacity, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. That’s below the $155 a megawatt-hour price for new nuclear developments in Europe and closing in on the $88 price tag on new coal plants, the London-based researcher estimates.

As nuclear power costs spiral, prompting a $6.3 billion writedown at reactor maker Toshiba Corp. and delays at Electricite de France SA’s plant in Flamanville, the investment needed to build offshore wind capacity is plummeting. 
In Denmark, where the government shoulders much of the development risk, Vattenfall AB last year agreed to supply power from turbines in the North Sea at 60 euros ($64) a megawatt-hour in 2020. Dutch and German auctions due this year provide “ample opportunity” to beat that record low price, says Gunnar Groebler, the utility’s head of wind.
The industry even is taking hold in the U.S., which for years shunned the technology as too costly for a place that historically enjoys lower power prices than Europe. 
A federal auction in December for rights to develop wind farms off the coast of Long Island resulted in a bidding war. Rhode Island has commissioned one plant, and developers are also considering work in Maryland, New Jersey and North Carolina. 
Although Trump said offshore wind was “monstrous” when it came into conflict with his golf course in Scotland, the U.S. government’s official goal for now is to install 86 gigawatts of turbines at sea by 2050. That’s six times the 14 gigawatts of capacity now in place worldwide, according to the Global Wind Energy Council.

The strength of the wind off the coast makes the sea a natural place to anchor turbines. In European waters, breezes average 22 miles per hour about 360 feet (110 meters) off the surface, a good baseline for the scale of many installations, according to The Crown Estate, which leases out areas of U.K. seabed belonging to the Queen to wind farms. That’s almost triple the average wind speed onshore.
While more steady gusts mean each turbine will yield more electricity, fixing the machines to the seabed requires deep concrete footings cast in often turbulent seas. 
The North Sea, the crucible of the modern offshore wind industry, suffers punishing storms and strong tides that batter turbines much of the year. Securing structures as tall as the Washington Monument in the ocean requires deep footings, specialized ships and cranes capable of lifting equipment that can weigh tons. Salt water eats away at machinery and fittings. Cables must be rugged enough for the worst weather. And if equipment breaks, it can take weeks before the seas are calm enough for a work vessel.
Oil majors that have spent decades building skills to work in those conditions are turning their attention to offshore wind as petroleum production subsides in the North Sea. Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Statoil ASA are among companies that won contracts to build offshore wind projects last year.
All told, a record $29.9 billion was invested in offshore wind in 2016, up 40 percent from the year before, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. It expects investment to grow to $115 billion by 2020. What’s driving installations is an expected 26 percent drop in the costs, making offshore wind increasingly competitive with land-based turbines and solar and nuclear power — even without subsidy.
In years past, grid managers were reluctant to rely on fickle winds for power that flows only about 45 percent of the year. That’s changing too. Battery costs have fallen 40 percent since 2014, making them a realistic way to help balance fluctuating flows of renewable energy to the grid.
Offshore wind projects coming online today are already delivering power at almost half the price of those finished in 2012 thanks to larger turbines and greater competition. That’s emboldening developers to promise supplying power for even less, suggesting the industry will break more records this year starting the a contest in Germany in April, said Deepa Venkateswaran, analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein Ltd.
Europe’s lingering low-interest environment may add downward pressure on bids in Germany’s offshore auctions, EON SE Chief Executive Officer Johannes Teyssen said on Jan., 25. The utility will join bidders as it seeks to add as much as 1.5 billion euros ($1.58 billion) a year 

The U.K. remains one of the hottest markets owing to the need to replace ageing power plants. Bids may reach as little as 80 euros a megawatt-hour in the next auction due to start in April, Venkateswaran said. That’s comparable to about 68 pounds a megawatt-hour for the global onshore wind average, and well below the government’s 2020 goal to bring costs below 100 pounds ($125.55) a megawatt-hour.
It’s also much cheaper than EDF’s new nuclear power program at Hinkley Point in Somerset, which last year won a 35-year contract to provide power at a cost of 92.50 pounds a megawatt hour once it begins generating. It’s currently due to come online in 2026, even though EDF originally planned it to be cooking Christmas turkeys for British households in 2017.
“In this auction it is possible that the price achieved could be below 90 pounds,” said Keith Anderson, chief corporate officer of Scottish Power Ltd., a unit of Spain’s Iberdrola SA.
Press link for more: Bloomberg.com

“I don’t want to be called a climate denier” #auspol #science 

Scott Pruitt demonstrates what climate denial sounds like

“I DON’T want to be called a denier,” CNBC anchor Joe Kernen said to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt on Thursday morning. “I know you don’t want to be called that, either.”
But what else can one call Mr. Pruitt, after he said this to Mr. Kernan: “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see. But we don’t know that yet. . . . We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”
That is not “skepticism,” a term that implies reasonable doubt in the face of inadequate information. That is denial of a scientific consensus built on ample evidence that gets stronger every year, and it is denial of Mr. Pruitt’s essential responsibilities as the nation’s chief environmental watchdog.

If Mr. Pruitt had merely said that it is hard to establish humanity’s effects on the climate with precision, no one could accuse him of being wrong. Scientists cannot say exactly how much warming will occur after a given amount of carbon dioxide is pumped into the atmosphere — and probably will not be able to until after the warming has occurred. But that is not evidence of no or small effect. Scientists have calculated a range of possible values for the planet’s “sensitivity” to carbon dioxide released by human activity — and it is not a comfortable one. The numbers suggest that, even if experts are far too pessimistic in their estimates, the risks of continuing to rapidly change the atmosphere’s chemistry are worryingly high and demand that every country on Earth act before doing so becomes much more expensive or impossible.
Yet Mr. Pruitt did not stick to mere misdirection about climate sensitivity. He argued, wrongly, that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that carbon dioxide is even “a primary contributor” to the climate change scientists have already measured — even though they have painstakingly ruled out alternative culprits.
In fact, the notion that greenhouse-gas emissions play a leading role in global warming is not questionable. There is still plenty of room for more research about the future manner and severity of the impact but not for denial that there is a significant impact that humans should attempt to limit.
Accepting the expert consensus is a matter of reason vs. unreason. On the side of reason are scientists armed with decades of data and the insights of basic physics, which counsel that adding heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere will trap more heat. Human fingerprints are increasingly visible in the data. Here, per CNBC’s own account of the Pruitt interview, is the joint conclusion of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: “The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.”
It is little wonder the Trump administration is reportedly preparing to sharply cut NOAA’s budget. Ignoring data may seem easier if you collect less of it.

Press link for more: Washington Post

Carbon dioxide levels rising at record pace. #auspol #science 

Carbon dioxide levels rose at record pace for 2nd straight year | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Carbon dioxide levels measured at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Baseline Atmospheric Observatory rose by 3 parts per million to 405.1 parts per million (ppm) in 2016, an increase that matched the record jump observed in 2015.
The two-year, 6-ppm surge in the greenhouse gas between 2015 and 2017 is unprecedented in the observatory’s 59-year record. And, it was a record fifth consecutive year that carbon dioxide (CO2) rose by 2 ppm or greater, said Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network.
“The rate of CO2 growth over the last decade is 100 to 200 times faster than what the Earth experienced during the transition from the last Ice Age,” Tans said. “This is a real shock to the atmosphere.”
Globally averaged CO2 levels passed 400 ppm in 2015 — a 43-percent increase over pre-industrial levels. In February 2017, CO2 levels at Mauna Loa had already climbed to 406.42 ppm.

This graph shows the annual mean carbon dioxide growth rates observed at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Baseline Atmospheric Observatory.

This graph shows the annual mean carbon dioxide growth rates observed at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Baseline Atmospheric Observatory. Further information can be found on the ESRL Global Monitoring Division website. (NOAA)

Measurements are independently validated
NOAA has measured CO2 on site at the Mauna Loa observatory since 1974. To ensure accuracy, air samples from the mountaintop research site in Hawaii are shipped to NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, for verification. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which first began sampling CO2 at Mauna Loa in 1956, also takes independent measurements onsite.
Emissions from fossil-fuel consumption have remained at historically high levels since 2011 and are the primary reason atmospheric CO2 levels are increasing at a dramatic rate, Tans said. This high growth rate of CO2 is also being observed at some 40 other sites in NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network.
The greenhouse effect, explained
Carbon dioxide is one of several gases that are primarily responsible for trapping heat in the atmosphere. This “greenhouse effect” maintains temperatures suitable for life on Earth. Increasing CO2 levels trap additional heat in the atmosphere and the oceans, contributing to rising global average temperatures.
Atmospheric CO2 averaged about 280 ppm between about 10,000 years ago and the start of the Industrial Revolution around 1760.

Press link for more: NOAA

76 Women on a Glacier are changing the World #IWD #auspol #science 

76 women on a glacier are changing the world
“We’re going to keep fighting to ensure climate progress is made.”

The women of Homeward Bound. CREDIT: Anne Christianson
By Molly Taft
Heidi Steltzer’s job, as she puts it, is “hiking where no one else will go.” 

As a mountain and polar ecologist studying rare plants, she’s accustomed to traveling to breathtaking Arctic vistas to chase flora along mountain ridges.
But watching glaciers calve on her first trip to Antarctica last December was a one-of-a-kind experience for the scientist. “You kind of want to see it,” she said.

 “Even though you know it’s not a good thing, you kind of want to be there.”
As she watched the great icebergs float by the boat in Neko Harbor, another member of Steltzer’s trip waved her arm at the scene, as if summoning a force to shave the glaciers surrounding them.
“Can you imagine if any one of us had that kind of power to see ice calve when you wanted to see it?” laughed Steltzer. “But at the same time, we knew, collectively — we do have that power. 

You can’t say these specific glaciers are definitively calving because of human action.

 But these events continuing to happen is consistent in that system, and consistent with what we know about human activity and climate change.”


Heidi Steltzer. CREDIT: Anne Christianson

Steltzer’s colleagues were more knowledgeable than your average gaggle of tourists. 

The travelers on her trip were all scientists, and several of them focus specifically on climate change.

 What’s more, her 75 companions on the three-week trip were all women, bound together on the largest-ever, all-female expedition to Antarctica. 

The trip was the focal point of a year-long leadership development program called Homeward Bound, which aims to groom 1,000 women with science backgrounds over the next ten years to influence public policy and dialogue.
While women made up more than 50 percent of the US workforce in 2016, they represented only 24 percent of workers in STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math. 

Representation in public policy is even worse: Women hold less than 23 percent of parliamentary positions worldwide, and less than 20 percent of Congress is female. 

The founder of Homeward Bound told Reuters that inspiration came from the trip from hearing two scientists joke that a beard was a requirement to land an Antarctic research leadership role.


The women of Homeward Bound. CREDIT: Anne Christianson

The problem of female leadership in STEM isn’t a new one. When Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University and a leading U.S. climate voice, was a second-year undergraduate physics student, the head of the department called her into his office to ask how the program could help encourage her career as a female physicist.
“My mentors in science from day one have all been male,” she recalled. “I’ve learned a lot from them and I’ve been incredibly encouraged and supported by them. But at the same time, there have been differences between us.”


Katharine Hayhoe. CREDIT: Katharine Hayhoe

Lifestyle and family changes, Hayhoe emphasized, provide a particular sticking point between the genders in STEM. “As I got older, I started to realize how big the gap was between colleagues who basically had a spouse who managed everything full time,” she said. “They could just, at the drop of the hat, leap on an airplane and be off to a meeting, versus a mother who, before you do anything, you’ve got to do all the laundry, freeze the meals, figure out who is picking the kids up from schools. At this point, if someone asks me to do something at the drop of the hat, the answer is no — and this still happens to me today.”
Steltzer echoed similar experiences. “At one point in time, women were present in equal measures to myself at a peer level,” she said. “But now that I’m in my early 40s, an associate professor, in many environments I’m in there are fewer women. There are ways we can do better.”


The polar plunge at Neko Bay. CREDIT: Sarah Brough

She pointed out that the perception of “good old boys’ clubs” in male-dominated fields may just be men connecting with each other over shared experiences. Getting a group of female scientists together can create a collaborative, experience-based atmosphere that can be difficult for women to find at home. “Homeward Bound created for us women a space and a place where we feel connected to one another.”
For Anne Christianson, a younger Homeward Bounder, the trip took on special importance for her work. Christianson is completing a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota, and her dissertation focuses on how climate change disproportionately affects women in developing countries. She points out that, while it was easy to see the consequences of climate change watching glaciers in Antarctica, it’s important to keep in mind how climate change threatens women around the globe.
“We have these cascading impacts [of climate change] on women that simply aren’t seen in men,” Christianson said. “Women generally don’t have enough capital to build our own resilience to climate change.”

Press link for more: Think Progress

Australia’s Angry Summer #climatechange #auspol 

More than 200 weather records were broken during the intense, “angry summer” just finished, putting stress on Australians and the ageing energy system.
A report from the Climate Council, released on Wednesday, says the summer was characterised by intense heatwaves, hot days and bushfires in central and eastern Australia but heavy rainfall and flooding in the country’s west.
Climate scientist Will Steffen said the effects of climate change could be seen in the 200 records broken in 90 days.
“We’re experiencing unprecedented extreme heat and setting new records at an alarming rate, with every part of Australia feeling the impact,” he said.
“Extreme weather will continue to intensify through this century if we continue to sit on our hands and fail to move rapidly to get fossil fuels out of our economy.”

Extreme weather events have dominated a wetter-than-average year in Australia, with the country also clocking its fourth-warmest year on record in 2016.
Fellow climate councillor and energy expert Andrew Stock said the “ageing, inefficient and polluting” energy system already struggled to cope with heatwaves and extreme weather and would come under even more pressure as these intensified.
The energy system is under scrutiny after blackouts in South Australia and load shedding in NSW during hot days.
“It’s time for Australia to power our economy with a 21st century energy system, one which deploys proven renewable technology and storage solutions instead of relying on high greenhouse emitting fossil fuels,” Mr Stock said.
“These fossil fuels are the very culprits feeding the extreme weather cycle. We have to stop backing the wrong horse.”
The federal government is facing increasing calls – including from big business and electricity generators – to give certainty to the energy sector and put in place some kind of carbon price, such as an emissions intensity scheme.
Records broken over the 2016-17 summer include:
Hottest summer on record for Sydney, NSW as a whole, Brisbane, and Canberra

Hottest Adelaide Christmas day in 70 years at 41.3 degrees

NSW town Moree had 54 consecutive days with temperatures reaching 35 degrees or higher

Canberra had 18 days with temperatures 35 degrees or higher (previously predictions said this wouldn’t happen until after 2030)

Highest summer rainfall for Perth at 192.8mm

Wettest December on record for parts of the Kimberley

Highest daily January rainfall in the east Kimberley

Press link for more: SBS.com

Why Trump is an Existential Threat #auspol #climatechange #science

One of the Most Famous Scientists in the World Just Explained Why Trump Is an Existential Threat

SochAnam/Getty Images
This story was originally published by New Republic and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
Earlier this month, thousands of scientists from around the world came together for their favorite nerd fest:

 The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest scientific organization and publisher of the renowned Science journals.

 There were panels on everything from climate change to robots, hornless cows to honeybees.

 But this year’s meeting was different than any other in its 168-year history, for one reason: Donald Trump was president. And scientists were freaking out.


“I haven’t seen anything like it in my many decades in science and science watching,” Dr. Rush Holt, the president of AAAS and executive publisher of the Science journals, told the New Republic.
Most scientists are uncomfortable talking politics because their work needs to be perceived as objective rather than partisan. But ever since America elected a president who’s made scientifically inaccurate statements on everything from vaccines to climate change, more and more scientists are stepping into the spotlight to stand up for their profession. That includes Holt, who announced Wednesday that AAAS would partner with the March for Science, an Earth Day rally with the primary goal of preserving and promoting evidence-based policymaking.
In a conversation with the New Republic, Holt—who is also a former U.S. Congressman—talked about the unprecedented level of political anxiety among American scientists, and how those scientists should navigate these murky waters.

TNR: We’ve reached this point where scientists are being thrown into the political spotlight, which I imagine is deeply uncomfortable for a lot of people in this profession. You just came from your annual conference, where thousands of scientists in attendance. What is the level of concern you observed from them about the Trump administration, and politics in general?
“The level of concern and anxiety among scientists—and I guess I’d say the science-friendly public—about the place of science in society in government, has gone beyond concern to anxiety.”
RH: The level of concern and anxiety among scientists—and I guess I’d say the science-friendly public—about the place of science in society in government, has gone beyond concern to anxiety. I haven’t seen anything like it in my many decades in science and science watching.
It used to be when that, when scientists in the hallways would talk about being worried about the state of science, what they really meant was, they were worried about the funding for their research. That’s not so much what we’re hearing now, although I do think scientists don’t realize what Congress seems to have in store for non-defense discretionary spending.
TNR: So you’re saying the concern among scientists has gone from, “will I get funding,” to something more existential.
RH: Existential might even be the right word. The concern now is whether policymakers even understand the meaning of evidence. Whether there is any truth to this descriptor of “fact-free era.” Whether policy is going to be made more and more in the absence of scientific input. There seems to be a concern about whether the public appreciation of science has eroded to a point where it has removed science from public debate and public decision making. Whether the public has come to regard evidence as optional.

TNR: You’ve only been at the head of AAAS some 2014, but compared to other years, was there a lot of political talk at this year’s annual meetings?
RH: That was the main hallways discussion, as well as discussion that broke out in panels on various scientific topics. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve also never seen as much of a spontaneous upsurge now of scientists and science-loving members of the public who want to defend science. We see that in the March for Science.
TNR: Regarding the march, though, some people have expressed concern that it’s going to politicize science even further. That it’s going to make science into a partisan issue.
RH: Well, the March for Science is not just a march. It’s a public education effort. It is a children’s science festival. It is emblematic of this public upsurge of interest in defending the idea of science. That’s really unusual. It’s also a rare opportunity for scientists to help get out the message of just how valuable, how powerful science is and how important it is—how it’s more important to lives of nonscientists than to the job of scientists.
TNR: So you don’t think that a march that will likely have politically-oriented signs will undermine science?
RH: There is a sense that science and politics are incompatible. I don’t think so at all. I think it’s important that scientists take great pains to make sure that ideology and personal bias and wishful thinking do not contaminate the collection and analysis and evidence. One must not politicize science. But the converse is not necessarily true. There’s no reason why scientists can not go into the public sphere. In fact, I would argue they should.
TNR: Does that mean you think more scientists should be running for political office?
RH: It doesn’t necessarily mean running for office. Every citizen, scientists included, has some obligation to be involved in public affairs and politics. I do think that in recent months I’ve seen a lot more public-directed attention from scientists. More and more scientists have called me up—strangers for the most part—who say, “I’m thinking about running for office. You’ve done it, how do you do it.” And I say, “just do it.”
TNR: Do you think all this concern is just because of Trump?
RH: Actually, the concerns that I heard raised at the annual meeting seemed to be rooted in trends that began years ago, quite independent of Donald Trump. It is true that when people are appointed to positions and talk without any appreciation or understanding of scientists, well, that gets scientists worried. And when public officials talk about alternative facts, people who have devoted their careers to trying to uncover facts are dismayed. But this type of rhetoric has been present in politics for some time.
TNR: Where do you think the conversation about science in policymaking needs to go from here? What needs to be done to communicate the stakes of an anti-science government?
RH: So much of this discussion in recent weeks and months has not been about specific issues, but about the place of science and science-based evidence in general. The phrase I hear most—more often than genetic engineering or nuclear power or anything like that—is “evidence-based decision-making.” I hear that phrase over and over.
There needs to be a public dawning—and it is beginning to dawn on some members of the public—that how science is practiced actually makes a difference in their lives. If evidence becomes optional, if ideological assertions or beliefs are just as good as scientifically vetted evidence, then their quality of life suffers. I think that’s dawning on people. There’s a level of concern unlike anything I’ve seen.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

Press link for more: motherjones.com

Climate Change impact irreversible #auspol #wapol 

Climate change impact on Australia may be irreversible, five-yearly report says

The Tarkine wilderness area in Tasmania

An independent review of the state of Australia’s environment has found the impacts of climate change are increasing and some of the changes could be irreversible.
The latest State of the Environment report, a scientific snapshot across nine areas released by the federal government every five years, says climate change is altering the structure and function of natural ecosystems in Australia, and is affecting heritage, economic activity and human wellbeing.
It warns climate change will result in “location specific vulnerabilities” and says the most severe impacts will be felt by people who are socially and economically disadvantaged.
Record high water temperatures caused “widespread coral bleaching, habitat destruction and species mortality” in the marine environment between 2011 and 2016, it says.

The minister for energy and the environment, Josh Frydenberg, was due to release the report card on Tuesday morning.
In a column for Guardian Australia, Frydenberg says the report indicates the impact of changing weather patterns is being felt in the ocean, on the Great Barrier Reef and on land, affecting biodiversity and species habitat.
“While carbon emissions per capita have declined from 24.1 tonnes in 2011 to 22.2 tonnes in 2015 and energy efficiency improvements are reducing electricity demand, the report makes clear that, for the world to meet its Paris goals, there is much more to do,” Frydenberg says.


The minister says the report makes clear Australia needs to prepare for changes in the environment and “put in place a coordinated, comprehensive, well-resourced, long-term response”.
He warns that failure to do so “will have a direct and detrimental impact on our quality of life and leave a legacy to future generations that is inferior to the one we have inherited”.
The minister says the report presents the government with a mixed picture. “Good progress has been made in the management of the marine and Antarctic environments, natural and cultural heritage and the built environment – while pressures are building in relation to invasive species, climate change, land use and coastal protection,” he says.
Frydenberg says the doubling of Australia’s population in the past 50 years and growing urbanisation “have all combined to contribute to additional pressures on the environment”.
Australia’s heavily populated coastal areas are under pressure, as are “growth areas within urban environments, where human pressure is greatest”, the report finds.
Grazing and invasive species continue to pose a significant threat to biodiversity.
“The main pressures facing the Australian environment today are the same as in 2011: climate change, land use change, habitat fragmentation and degradation, and invasive species,” the report’s summary says. “In addition, the interactions between these and other pressures are resulting in cumulative impacts, amplifying the threats faced by the Australian environment.
“Evidence shows that some individual pressures on the environment have decreased since 2011, such as those associated with air quality, poor agricultural practices, commercial fishing, and oil and gas exploration and production in Australia’s marine environment.
“During the same time, however, other pressures have increased — for example, those associated with coal mining and the coal-seam gas industry, habitat fragmentation and degradation, invasive species, litter in our coastal and marine environments, and greater traffic volumes in our capital cities.”

The report criticises the lack of “an overarching national policy that establishes a clear vision for the protection and sustainable management of Australia’s environment to the year 2050”.
It points to poor collaboration, gaps in knowledge, data and monitoring and a lack of follow-though from policy to action.
“Providing for a sustainable environment both now and in the future is a national issue requiring leadership and action across all levels of government, business and the community,” it says. “The first step is recognising the importance and value of ecosystem services to our economy and society.
“Addressing Australia’s long-term, systemic environmental challenges requires, among other things, the development of a suite of stronger, more comprehensive and cohesive policies focused on protecting and maintaining natural capital, and ongoing improvements to current management arrangements.”
Late last year, the government established a review of its Direct Action climate policy. The current policy has been widely criticised by experts as inadequate if Australia is to meet its international emissions reduction targets under the Paris climate change agreement.
Shortly after establishing the review, Frydenberg ruled out converting the Direct Action scheme to a form of carbon trading after a brief internal revolt. Many experts argue carbon trading would allow Australia to reduce emissions consistent with Paris commitments at least cost to households and businesses.
The Direct Action review still allows for the consideration of the potential role of international carbon credits in meeting Australia’s emissions reduction targets – a practice Tony Abbott comprehensively ruled out as prime minister – and consideration of a post-2030 emissions reduction goal for Australia.
The review also requires an examination of international developments in climate change policy, which is code for an assessment of what is happening on global climate action in the event the US pulls out of the Paris climate agreement.
The New York Times reported last week that the White House was fiercely divided over Trump’s campaign promise to cancel the Paris agreement.
Its report said Trump’s senior strategist Steve Bannon wanted the US to pull out of the Paris agreement but Bannon’s stance was being resisted by the new secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who are concerned about the diplomatic fallout.
The Turnbull government has already indicated that it intends to stay the course with the Paris agreement, and has argued it would take the US four years to withdraw from the deal under the terms of ratification.
But if the US withdraws from Paris, internal pressure inside the Coalition will intensify, and the prime minister will face calls from some conservatives to follow suit.
In his column for Guardian Australia, Frydenberg says the Coalition is doing good work on the environment and the conservative parties in Australia have been responsible for establishing legislation such as the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, and programs such as the Natural Heritage Trust and the first mandatory Renewable Energy Target.
“The task now is to build on this proud Coalition tradition and to use this report to continue the good work the Turnbull government is already doing across so many areas of environmental policy,” he says.

Press link for more: The Guardian

Climate Change Adaptation in SE Asia #auspol 

Moving Ahead
with Climate Change Adaptation in Southeast Asia

By Percy E. Sajise1

Climate change is a pervasive concern of the current as well as the future generation. 

It threatens the very survival of what life stands for, including that of the human species. 

The global community is currently confronting the threat of climate change in two ways (including its various combinations): through reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and through other forms of mitigation and adaptation.

The global community is still debating on the first strategy in terms of country targets. 

Meanwhile, another mitigation strategy is now being implemented such that those countries with higher GHG emissions pay those countries with lower emissions; the latter, in turn, plant trees or generate biomass to reduce the level of GHG emissions in the atmosphere. 


However, such strategy should not be construed as a license for these high-emitting countries to continue with their current GHG emission levels.

For small farm holders and fisherfolk who have less production resources and options for livelihoods, the only available and affordable option for them to deal with this challenge is to adapt to climate change; hence, the importance of the strategies and collective lessons on climate change adaptation (CCA). 

The Montpellier Panel Report recommends that governments, donors, and the private sector should invest more on initiatives that would scale-up proven community-based resilient adaptation projects, particularly those projects that would enhance soil, water, and nutrient management; conservation technologies; and risk management tools (Agriculture for Impact 2015).

This becomes doubly signifcant as the window of opportunity in addressing the climate change issue is getting narrower, especially for the most affected and most vulnerable groups.


According to the Center for Sustainable Development (2015), sustainable rural development is defined as “improving the life for rural poor by developing capacities that promote community participation and gender equality, health and education, food and nutrition security, environmental protection, and sustainable economic growth, thereby enabling community members to leave the cycle of poverty and achieve their full potential; its dimensions are human development, natural resources and environment, economic growth, infrastructure, science and technology, and policy and administration.”
CCA is a means of achieving sustainable rural development.

 This is also well-elucidated in the context of the recently launched UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, which is the continuation of the Millennium Development Goals after 2015.

Based on the above premises, this climate change book provides a collection of actual cases of how this CCA strategy is being implemented in Southeast Asia. It illustrates cases in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Indonesia involving various hierarchical levels—from regional, subregional, country, village, to farm levels. It describes the enabling or constraining environments, methods, and processes of how CCA has been developed at one hierarchical level, and subsequently translated at other levels and scales.

This book is a good reference material for researchers, policy makers, NGOs, and development and extension workers involved in pursuing climate change concerns (in particular) and sustainable development (in general).

Press link for more: SEARCA

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