#ClimateChange is a multifaceted problem. #DiEM25 #auspol #qldpol #Tourism

Climate change is a multifaceted problem.

It roots not only in our views of the environment as a rubbish dump, but also in the indifference of material interests, shallow public scientific debates, and poor allocation of resources.

It’s complex, worldwide.

But one key driver of carbon emissions – previously overlooked – is something that we can control: the tourist industry.

Scientists have been trying to quantify the effect of tourism for decades.

But a recent study suggests that our previous calculations were considering only part of the problem.

In fact, by analyzing the effect of tourism in a more holistic approach, some alarming results emerge: between 2009 and 2013 tourism and tourism-related carbon emissions increased by 20 per cent.

This number significantly escalates the contribution of tourism to global carbon emissions.

Of course, fighting tourism-related emissions is not enough.

Our planet faces multiple crises, and we need to tackle them all at the same time; We have already noted that the fight for poverty and against climate change should not be independent.

This is why we design our policies collectively and holistically.

We envision restoration of democracy in conjunction with sound economic policies and heavy investments in green technologies. Join us here and contribute to our common fight!

Do you want to be informed of DiEM25’s actions? Sign up here.

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Inspiring Terms Are Simple. ‘Climate Change’ Isn’t. #auspol #StopAdani

Inspiring Terms Are Simple. ‘Climate Change’ Isn’t.

The doubters and believers aren’t even talking about the same thing.

More stories by Faye Flam

Some global warming is caused by Jupiter. But most of the blame belongs on the third rock from the sun.

Source: Universal Images Group, via Getty Images

As scientific terms go, “climate change” is failing.

Good terms are specific, descriptive and help people to understand complex concepts. Climate change is ambiguous, referring perhaps to the most pressing human-generated environmental problem of the century, or to other kinds of changes that happen through natural forces and have been going on since long before humans arose.

Last week I chatted with Columbia University paleontologist Dennis Kent about some new work he and his colleagues published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about the surprisingly big influence of Venus and Jupiter on the climate of Earth.

The gravitational tug of the second and fifth planets from the sun act to stretch Earth’s annual orbit like a rubber band, pulling it into a more oblong ellipse and then back to something very close to a perfect circle over a cycle of 405,000 years. And that leads to big changes in our climate – or the climate of whatever creatures lived here.

The ambiguity of “climate change” plays into the problems that a Wall Street Journal op-ed identified last week in a piece headlined “Climate Activists Are Lousy Salesmen.”

This is science, not advertising, and the terms that scientists come up with aren’t decided by public-relations experts using focus groups.

Most of the burden of explaining climate changes, past and present, has fallen not to “activists” but to scientists, whether or not they have an interest in or aptitude for persuasion.

According to historians, the same people who were fascinated by dramatic natural climate changes were the ones to discover that burning up lots of fossil fuel was likely to cause a short-term spike in the global temperature.

The start of that spike is already measurable.

Research on human-generated and natural climate changes are related, and many of the same people still study both kinds in order to get a better handle on where things are headed in the coming decades, centuries and millennia.

Back in the 19th century, scientists started to investigate signs in the geologic record that dramatic ice ages had been occurring every 40,000 years or so, during which glaciers crept over much of the Northern Hemisphere. Eventually, they realized that these are driven by what Kent calls an ice age pacemaker – the interplay between the tilt of the planet’s axis and our planet’s distance from the sun.

Those factors change the way sunlight is distributed, concentrating more or less over the Northern Hemisphere, where there’s more land and the potential to build up glaciers.

Glaciers reflect sunlight, absorbing less of its heat energy than dark surfaces would, which makes the cold periods colder worldwide.

Similarly, warmth releases carbon dioxide, which acts as a greenhouse gas traps solar heat and amplifies warm periods.

Adding to all this complexity is the subject of the new paper – a 405,000-year-long cycle caused by our fellow planets.

Kent said that basic Newtonian physics shows that Venus and Jupiter actually change Earths’ orbit significantly.

At its most oblong, the long axis of the orbit is five percent longer than the shorter one. During that more oblong part of the cycle, the Earth strays farther than normal from the sun (twice a year) and also flirts closer to the sun than usual (twice a year). So other natural changes reach greater extremes – the ice ages colder and the periods in between warmer.

What Kent and his colleagues did was expand the record of those cycles by digging out cores of Earth hundreds of feet long from Arizona and Northern New Jersey.

They used the natural clocks provided by radioactive materials and signs of reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field to figure out when and how the climate changed.

The cycles, he said, go back more than 200 million years, to the time when dinosaurs first appeared.

We are currently in the rounder, more even phase of our orbital cycle, Kent said, meaning the ice ages should be relatively mild.

We’re also in between ice ages and could go into a new one in a few thousand years, though some think that human-generated global warming will be enough to offset it.

And herein lies the confusion.

People hear “climate change” and think, what’s the big deal?

The climate has been changing for millions of years.

Or they note that scientists used to think we were headed into another ice age.

But the time scales matter.

Fossil fuel burning and other human-generated changes are likely to warm the overall planet’s temperature by more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit over the coming decades.

The next ice age isn’t expected for a few millennia.

That’s a long time to wait for a potential cooldown.

One could distinguish the current, more rapid climate change by calling it “anthropogenic climate change,” but that term makes people trip over their own tongues, so it’s understandable that people shorten it.

There’s also the term “global warming,” which is a little more descriptive, but scientists say it fails to capture changes in rainfall patterns, wind and currents that go along with the general trend of warming.

The Wall Street Journal piece was right about a sales problem. It’s too bad there isn’t a catchy term or acronym — such as WMD or GMO — to describe the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning, deforestation, domestic cattle and other human activities.

The complexity of climate science may always be at odds with the simplicity that’s key to inspiring action.

Remember the hole in the ozone layer?

It was more of a thin spot, but in the 1980s, that dramatic term may have helped spur a global movement to reduce certain pollutants staved off disaster.

It’s too late to prevent anthropogenic climate change, or unnatural climate change, or global warming — call it what you will. But it isn’t too late to slow the warming, and perhaps even reverse it.

If only someone could sell the idea.

To contact the author of this story:

Faye Flam at

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Harvard Scientist: Climate Change May Be Worse Than We Think #auspol #StopAdani

Harvard Scientist: Climate Change May Be Worse Than We Think

Daniel Schrag’s professional credentials are impressive: He’s the director of the Center for the Environment at Harvard University where he’s a professor of environmental science and engineering.

At Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Schrag is co-director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy program.

Throughout President Barack Obama’s eight years in office, Schrag served on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, contributing to many reports.

He has a long list of published papers ranging from the impact of corals on seawater chemistry 250 million years ago to solar geoengineering.

But nowhere in his extensive résumé will you find “prophet of doom.”

Yet he very much sounds like one when speaking about the rapid rise of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. “While climate change may not yet have had its huge impact on biodiversity,” says Schrag, “just wait.

What’s coming is really extraordinary.”

In a presentation called “Our Planetary Experiment” to be unveiled at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium on Wednesday, Schrag uses his research into Earth’s geologic record as well as new data from planets beyond our solar system to determine the future of our planet as carbon dioxide emissions continue to build and heat up our atmosphere.

As it stands now, Schrag concludes the “experiment” is not going well.

He says that “over the next few decades, Earth’s atmosphere will return to a state not seen for millions of years.”

The Scripps CO2 measurements at Mauna Loa (Courtesy of Scripps Institution of Oceanography)

In his talks, Schrag often refers to the Keeling Curve, a graph created by American scientist Charles David Keeling in 1958.

Keeling was the first to record ongoing CO2 levels in Earth’s atmosphere.

In the late 1950s the CO2 readings were 315 parts per million.

In 2018, that reading has exceeded 400 ppm.

In analyzing Earth’s geologic record, Schrag says, “never in the last 800,000 years has CO2 been above 300 ppm.” Schrag says the last time atmospheric CO2 levels spiked sharply was around 36 million years ago when non-human factors were at play.

Even then the spike occurred over thousands of years.

“We’re likely to see 4 maybe even 6 degrees (Celsius) of (global) warming over the next 100 years,” says Schrag, “and it’s happening more than 100 times faster than climate change we’ve experienced in the past.”

Schrag believes there might be even more to be concerned about, saying there might be additional factors worsening climate change that scientists have not anticipated.

Adding to his grim forecast, Schrag says reversing the trend will be neither easy nor quick.

The World Counts

For one thing, more than half of the CO2 currently affecting climate change will remain in our atmosphere 1,000 years from now. “A silver-bullet solution is not around the corner.

It will require innovative investments sustained for at least the next century,” he says.

Schrag says public policy energy choices made “over the next decade or two will have profound effects on the Earth’s system, on every living thing on the planet.” Schrag says determined and sustained energy choices that reduce CO2 emissions are urgently needed to prevent his doomsday prophecies from becoming realities of biblical proportions.

Press link for more: Chicago Tonight

What genuine, for real, no-bullshit ambition on climate change would look like. #auspol #StopAdani

What genuine, for real, no-bullshit ambition on climate change would look like

New scenarios show how to hit the most stringent targets, with no loopholes.

David Roberts

A new dawn of ambition, or something.


What would it take to really tackle climate change? No delays, no gimmicks, no loopholes, no shirking of responsibility — the real thing. What would it look like?

To answer that question, it helps to understand the upper threshold of climate ambition. The target agreed upon by the world’s nations in Paris in 2015 is global warming of “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, with good-faith efforts to hold temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.

Countries are not moving anywhere near fast enough to hit those targets, so we are currently on track for somewhere around 3 degrees. It is generally agreed that hitting 2 degrees would quite ambitious, while hitting 1.5 would be nothing short of miraculous.

While there is nothing like a real-world plan in place for hitting those targets yet, climate modelers have come up with many scenarios for how we might do so. However, as I wrote recently, most of those scenarios rely heavily on “negative emissions” — ways of pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. If negative emissions technologies can be scaled up later in the century, the reasoning goes, it gives us room to emit more earlier in the century.

And that’s what most current 2- or 1.5-degree scenarios show: Global carbon emissions rise in the short term, then plunge rapidly to become net negative around 2060, with gigatons of carbon subsequently captured and buried over the remainder of the century. The oil giant Shell released a scenario along those lines a few weeks ago.

Shell’s use of negative emissions, compared to other scenarios.

Glen Peters

The primary instrument of negative emissions is expected to be BECCS: bioenergy (burning plants to generate electricity) with carbon capture and sequestration. The idea is that plants absorb carbon as they grow; when we burn them, we can capture and bury that carbon. The result is electricity generated as carbon is removed from the cycle — net-negative carbon electricity.

Most current scenarios bank on a lot of BECCS later in the century to make up for the carbon sins of the near past and near future.


Sanchez 2015

One small complication in all this: There is currently no commercial BECCS industry. Neither the BE nor the CCS part has been demonstrated at any serious scale, much less at the scale necessary. (The land area needed to grow all that biomass for BECCS in these models is estimated to be around one to three times the size of India.)

Maybe we could pull off a massive BECCS industry quickly. But banking on negative emissions later in the century is, at the very least, an enormous, fateful gamble. It bets the lives and welfare of millions of future people on an industry that, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t yet exist.

Plenty of people reasonably conclude that’s a bad idea, but alternatives have been difficult to come by. There hasn’t been much scenario-building around truly ambitious goals: to zero out carbon as fast as possible, to hold temperature rise as close to 1.5 degrees as possible, and, most significantly, to do so while minimizing the need for negative emissions. That is the upper end of what’s possible.

Three recent publications help fill that gap:

• “Global Energy Transformation: A Roadmap to 2050,” by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), is a plan that targets a 66 percent chance of staying below 2 degrees, primarily through renewable energy.

• The analysts at Ecofys recently released a scenario for zeroing out global emissions by 2050, thus limiting temperature to 1.5 degrees and eliminating (most of) the need for negative emissions.

• A group of scholars led by Detlef van Vuuren of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency published a paper in Nature Climate Change investigating how to hit the 1.5 degree target while minimizing the need for negative emissions.

This graph will be very meaningful once you read the paper.

Nature Climate Change

Here’s how this post is going to go: First, we’ll have a quick look at why targeting 1.5 degrees is so urgent; second, we’ll look at a few things these scenarios have in common, the baseline for serious ambition; third, we’ll look more closely at the third paper, as it offers some interesting alternatives (like, oh, mass vegetarianism) to typical carbon thinking; and finally, I’ll conclude.

Why targeting 1.5 degrees is urgent

Americans can’t make much sense out of Celsius temperatures, and half a degree of temperature doesn’t sound like much regardless. But the difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees of global warming is a very big deal. (The IPCC is coming out with a science review on this in October.)

Another recent paper in Nature Climate Change makes the point vividly: Bumping ambition up from 2 to 1.5 degrees would prevent 150 million premature deaths through 2100, 90 million through reduced exposure to particulates, 60 million due to reduced ozone.

“More than a million premature deaths would be prevented in many metropolitan areas in Asia and Africa,” the researchers write, “and [more than] 200,000 in individual urban areas on every inhabited continent except Australia.”

That’s not nothing! And of course, the difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees could mean the difference between life and death for low-lying islands.

The Marshall Islands, for now.


There’s no time to waste. In fact, there may be, uh, negative time. Limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees is possible, even in theory, only if the “carbon budget” for that target is at the high end of current estimates.

Again: 1.5 is only possible if we get started, with boosters on, immediately, and we get lucky. Time is not running out — it’s out.

What’s required to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees

The three scenarios I mentioned are different in a number of ways. The first two project through 2050, but the Nature Climate Change paper goes out to 2100. They target different things and use different tools. But they share a few big action items — features that any ambitious climate plan will inevitably involve.

1) Radically increase energy efficiency.

Just how much energy will be needed through 2050? That depends on population and economic growth, obviously, but it also depends on the energy intensity of the world’s economies — how much primary energy they require to produce a unit of GDP.

Increasing energy efficiency (which, all else being equal, reduces emissions) is in a race with population and economic growth (which, all else being equal, increases them). To radically decarbonize with minimal negative emissions, efficiency will need to outrun growth. (Notably, Shell’s scenario shows much higher global energy demand in coming decades; growth outruns efficiency.)

IRENA’s scenario reduces global energy-related emissions 90 percent by 2050. Of that 90 percent, 40 comes from energy efficiency.

To do this, IRENA says, the energy intensity of the global economy must fall two-thirds by 2050. Improvements in energy intensity will have to accelerate from an average of 1.8 percent a year from 2010 to 2015 to an average of 2.8 percent a year through 2050.

In the Ecofys scenario, energy efficiency is so amped up that total global energy demand is lower in 2050 than today, despite a much larger population and a global economy three times larger than today’s.

The Nature Climate Change paper summarizes the necessary approach to efficiency this way: “Rapid application of the best available technologies for energy and material efficiency in all relevant sectors in all regions.”

“All relevant sectors in all regions” means electricity, transportation, buildings, and industry, all bumped up to the most efficient available materials and technologies, everywhere in the world, starting immediately. Cool, cool, cool.

2) Radically increase renewable energy.

All the scenarios envision renewables (primarily wind and solar) rapidly coming to dominate electricity. In the IRENA scenario, renewables grow sixfold faster than they are currently, supplying 85 percent of global electricity by 2050.

Ecofys has them supplying 100 percent of global electricity — with that sector completely decarbonized — by 2040, even as global demand for electricity triples.

The Nature Climate Change paper notes that the vision of rapid renewables dominance all these scenarios have in common involves “optimistic assumptions on the integration of variable renewables and on costs of transmission, distribution and storage,” which, yeah.

3) Electrify everything!

Notably, all three scenarios heavily involve electrification of sectors and applications that currently run on fossil fuels. In the IRENA case, electricity rises from 21 percent of total global energy consumption today to 40 percent by 2050.

In the Ecofys scenario, it rises to a whopping 70 percent. In the Nature Climate Change study, it rises to 46 percent (compared to 31 percent in the reference case).

I have made the case for electrification before, and it’s not complicated. We know how to radically increase the supply of zero-carbon electricity; increasing the supply of zero-carbon liquid fuels is much more difficult. So it makes sense to move as much energy use as possible over to electricity, particularly vehicles, home heating and cooling, and lower-temperature industrial applications.

The Ecofys scenario makes it particularly clear: If renewable energy and energy efficiency are to be your primary decarbonization tools (more on that in a second), full decarbonization requires going all out on electrification.

The rising yellow wedge at the bottom left — that’s electricity.


4) And still maybe do a little negative emissions.

Even though the intentions, of the Ecofys and Nature researchers particularly, was to minimize the need for negative emissions, neither was able to completely eliminate it.

“Regardless of the rapid decarbonisation” in the scenario, Ecofys researchers write, “the 1.5°C carbon budget is most likely still exceeded.” The only way to hold at 1.5 is to mop up that excess carbon with negative emissions. Ecofys thinks CCS applications will mostly be confined to industry and the rest can be taken care of by “afforestation, reforestation, and soil carbon sequestration,” i.e., non-CCS methods of negative emissions. And, it notes, this remaining excess carbon “is significantly less than most other low carbon scenarios.”

In the Nature Climate Change study, the need for BECCS can be completely eliminated only if every single one of the other strategies is maximized (see the next section).

Here’s what those researchers conclude about negative emissions:

[W]hile this study shows that alternative options can greatly reduce the volume of CDR [carbon dioxide removal] to achieve the 1.5°C goal, nearly all scenarios still rely on BECCS and/or reforestation (even the hypothetical combination of all alternative options still captured 400 GtCO2 by reforestation). Therefore, investment in the development of CDR options remains an important strategy if the international community intends to implement the Paris target.

They advise policymakers (wisely, it seems to me) to pursue negative emissions strategies but to think of alternative scenarios as insurance against the possibility that those strategies run up against unanticipated social or economic barriers.

The Kemper Project, meant to capture carbon from coal emissions, died a painful death.


Decarbonization beyond renewable electricity and efficiency

The IRENA and Ecofys scenarios, like most rapid decarbonization scenarios, rely overwhelmingly on renewable energy and energy efficiency. But as environmentalist Paul Hawken reminds us with his Drawdown Project, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in most climate policy. (For instance, we’re going to talk about fake meat here in a minute.)

Like most climate-economic modelers, the Nature Climate Change researchers use integrated assessment models (IAMs) to generate their scenarios. They tested their decarbonization strategies against the second of five shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs), which are the modeling community’s set of different visions for the future — different mixes of population, economic growth, oil prices, technology development, etc. SSP2 contains roughly median predictions. (If you’re curious about SSPs, here’s an explainer.)

But they also challenge some of the limitations in how IAMs have typically been used:

As IAMs select technologies on the basis of relative costs, they normally concentrate on reduction measures for which reasonable estimates of future performance and costs can be made. This implies that some possible response strategies receive less attention, as their future performance is more speculative or their introduction would be based on drivers other than cost, such as lifestyle change or more rapid electrification.

The Nature Climate Change paper attempts to model some of these more ambitious, uncertain, or non-cost-driven strategies, assembling a whole suite of decarbonization scenarios in different combinations.

Several of them are familiar: There’s a “uniform carbon tax in all regions and sectors,” along with maximized energy efficiency and renewable energy. But others are more novel in these modeling contexts.

Agricultural intensification: “High agricultural yields and application of intensified animal husbandry globally.”

Low non-CO2: “Implementation of the best available technologies for reducing non-CO2 emissions and full adoption of cultured meat in 2050.” (Non-CO2 greenhouse gases include methane, nitrous oxide, black carbon, fluorocarbons, aerosols, and tropospheric ozone. Cattle are a big source of methane, thus the cultured meat.)

Lifestyle change: “Consumers change their habits towards a lifestyle that leads to lower GHG emissions. This includes a less meat-intensive diet (conforming to health recommendations), less CO2-intensive transport modes (following the current modal split in Japan), less intensive use of heating and cooling (change of 1°C in heating and cooling reference levels) and a reduction in the use of several domestic appliances.” Though they don’t call it out specifically, this would very much involve less flying, one of the most carbon-intensive habits of the affluent.

Low population: “Scenario based on SSP1, projecting low population growth.” Population growth can be curbed most effectively through access to family planning and education of girls (which, notably, have many other benefits as well).

Good climate policy.


You can decide for yourself how likely you find any of these changes. The researchers say they are modeling “ambitious, but not unrealistic implementation.”

Reducing non-CO2 GHGs and widespread lifestyle changes have the most short-term impact on emissions. However, “by 2100,” they write, “the strongest reductions are found in the renewable electrification and low population scenarios.” This echoes what the Drawdown Project found, which is that educating girls and making family planning widely available (thus reducing population growth) is the most potent long-term climate policy.

Deep thoughts

Needless to say, accomplishing any one of these goals — a global carbon tax, maximized efficiency, an explosion of renewable energy, a wholesale revolution in agriculture, rapid reduction of non-CO2 GHGs, a rapid shift in global lifestyle choices, and successful measures to curb population growth — would be an enormous achievement.

To completely avoid BECCS while still hitting the 1.5 degree target, we would have to accomplish all of them.

That is highly unlikely. Still, the important point of the Nature Climate Change research remains: “alternative pathways exist allowing for more moderate use and postponement of BECCS.” Given the substantial and uncharted difficulties facing BECCS, policymakers owe those alternative pathways a look.

Obviously these strategies face all kinds of social and economic barriers. (I’m trying to envision what it would take to rapidly shift Americans from beef to cultured meat … trying and failing.) But they also come with co-benefits. Reducing fossil fuels reduces local air pollution and its health impacts. Energy efficiency reduces energy bills. Eating less meat and driving less are healthy.

Overall, a radical energy transition would mean a net boost in global GDP (relative to the reference case) in every year through 2050.


An energy transition would also create millions of net jobs. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy.

Engineering any of these shifts, the Nature Climate Change researchers write with some understatement, “requires not only insights from IAMs, but also in-depth knowledge of social transitions.” They suggest (and I heartily endorse) that subsequent research focus on social and political barriers and strategies.

In the end, perhaps the most important conclusion in the Nature Climate Change paper is the simplest and the one that we already knew: “a rapid transformation in energy consumption and land use is needed in all scenarios.”

At this point, whether it’s possible to hit various targets is almost beside the point. All the science and modeling are saying the same thing, which is that humanity faces serious danger and needs to reduce carbon emissions to zero as quickly as possible.

The chances of us getting our collective shit together and accomplishing what these scenarios describe are … slim. There are so many vested interests and so much public aversion to rapid change, so many governments to be coordinated, so many economic and technology trends that must fall just the right way. It’s daunting.

Conversely, the chances of us overdoing it — trying too hard, spending too much money, reducing emissions too much or too fast — are effectively nil.

So the only rule of climate policy that really matters is: go as hard and fast as possible, forever and ever, amen.

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The Case for Climate Reparations?

The Case for Climate Reparations

Who should pay the costs for climate-change-related disasters?

By Jason Mark

Jason Mark is the editor of Sierra and the author of Satellites in the High Country: Searching for the Wild in the Age of Man.

Follow him on Twitter @writerfarmer.

THE FLAMES moved with a speed that no one had thought possible.

It was a Sunday night, about 10:30 P.M., and Brad Sherwood was asleep when the sound of the dog scratching at the back door woke him. He got out of bed and went to let the dog out. When he opened the door, he caught the scent of woodsmoke—not all that unusual for Larkfield Estates, a Santa Rosa, California, subdivision where many of the 1960s-era ranchettes had fireplaces. Then he noticed the ash falling onto the pool.

Brad checked his iPhone for fire alerts. There was nothing, just a few Facebook posts about a wildfire near Calistoga, more than 30 miles away. He went back inside, gently woke his wife, Brandy, and told her that he was going to head up Mark West Road to see where the smoke was coming from.

“OK, whatever,” Brandy said. But she remembers thinking, as she fell back asleep, Something is wrong.

Brad drove up the twisting, two-lane road into the oak-dotted hillsides of the Mayacamas Mountains, which separate the Santa Rosa suburbs from Napa Valley. On the way, he passed a few fire engines, including crews from distant places like Bodega Bay and Gold Ridge. What the hell’s Bodega Bay Fire doing all the way over here? he wondered. There was still no sign of flames, just the smoke moving on the winds. After about 10 miles, he decided to turn around.

he home of Brad and Brandy Sherwood and their children burned down in October 2017. | Photo by Darcy Padilla

By the time Brad got back to his neighborhood, the Sonoma County sheriffs had closed off the road; they were evacuating families from the hills, they told him. Brad went home. He was standing in his driveway when he saw one of his neighbors, a deputy sheriff, talking to another neighbor, Sherry. The sheriff got in his car, flashed on his lights, and tore off. Brad jogged over to Sherry’s place and asked what she had heard.

“Get out,” she said. “The fire’s coming.”

Brad called Brandy. “Get the kids ready. We need to go.”

He and Sherry went door to door, warning their neighbors, while Brandy woke up the kids—Grant, seven, and June, five—and told them they had to leave. Grant helped his little sister get her shoes on while Brandy grabbed the emergency go-bags plus five boxes of family keepsakes and staged them all near the front door. Then they corralled all the pets: the dog, two Himalayan cats, four parakeets. Brad let the two backyard chickens go free into the night.

The kids were standing at the door in their pajamas when the electricity blinked out and the house went dark. Oh my God, Brandy thought, this is really happening.

Brad drove his Jeep onto the front lawn and backed it toward the family’s front door, then did the same with the minivan. The family started tossing everything into the cars. Across the street, Beverly, their 83-year-old neighbor, was calling for help. With the power out, she couldn’t figure out how to open her garage door. Brad sprinted across the street to open the door for her.

By now, everyone could see the fire. To the east, the whole hillside was a dark-orange glow moving toward them. Blazing embers swept through the air.

Brad, an employee of the Sonoma County Water Agency, made straight for the county emergency-operations center. He saw flames jump over the six lanes of Highway 101 near the Kmart. He saw the fire torch the hillside neighborhood of Fountaingrove.

As they had prearranged in the family emergency plan, Brandy drove separately with the kids toward her parents’ home in Sacramento. She didn’t get far. They were heading eastward when another huge fire seemingly came out of nowhere. She called Brad. “The whole freeway is on fire,” she said.

Brandy flipped a U-turn. In the back of the van, the dog was throwing up. The kids were in a panic. She drove all the way to San Francisco and eventually on to Sacramento.

By the next morning, Larkfield Estates was gone.

Flames consume the Signorello Vinyards in Napa, California, in 2017. | Photo by Noah Berger

Santa Rosa, October 2017 | Photo by Reuters/Dronebase

Brad went back to the site of their home as soon as the emergency workers began letting residents return. But he and Brandy waited a couple of weeks before they took the kids.

Nothing was left except for the chimney and the broad brick staircase leading to where the front door had been. The pool was an inky black oval filled with ash and trash. The front yard’s big old walnut tree—a neighborhood totem for generations of local kids—stood blackened and burned.

There were no tears. Grant, an aspiring archaeologist, asked to pick through the wreckage to see if he could find his rock collection. June stood back near the minivan, silent, reluctant to approach the remains of the house.

Finally, she said, “The fire took it all.”

(Meanwhile in Australia)


TWO DAYS BEFORE the Sherwood children visited the remains of their house for the first time, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report stating that during the past decade, the government had spent more than $350 billion in response to climate-change-related extreme weather events. “Climate change impacts are already costing the federal government money,” the report said, “and these costs will likely increase over time.”

That’s an understatement.

In 2017, extraordinary wildfires, floods, and storms pummeled large sections of the United States and led to never-before-seen destruction. The complex of fires that torched California’s Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino Counties in October caused more than $10 billion in damages, making them the most expensive wildfires in U.S. history. At least 44 people lost their lives during the firestorm. The surreal Christmas-season fires near Santa Barbara led to another $2.5 billion in destroyed property. In August and September, widespread flooding during Hurricane Harvey caused at least $125 billion in damages in the greater Houston area and contributed to 93 deaths. Hurricane Irma damaged $50 billion worth of property in Florida, while Hurricane Maria’s September scouring of Puerto Rico caused another $90 billion in damages. At least 60 people in Puerto Rico died as a direct result of the storm; as many as 1,000 lives may have been lost due to the long-running electricity blackout on the island. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2017 was the most expensive year for natural disasters in U.S. history, costing a total of $306 billion.

The mounting price tag of extreme weather events and the prospect of greater destruction to come have brought into focus a question that has been lurking at the edges of climate change conversations: Who should pay the costs of the death and destruction caused by human-driven global warming?

The debate over climate accountability is not new.

In the late 1980s, when climatologists were still trying to determine the magnitude of the risks from industrial greenhouse gas emissions, academics and policy specialists began calling attention to the fact that the alteration of the planet’s atmosphere would lead to unequal harms, and that basic principles of fairness would require that those harms be compensated.

The issue of “loss and damage” entered into the formal United Nations–sponsored climate negotiations in 2007, when the Bali Action Plan suggested that wealthy nations take (unspecified) steps to assist “particularly vulnerable” countries.

The Bali Action Plan established the idea—at least in theory—that the rich countries that have built their wealth by burning fossil fuels should help the poorer nations that are suffering disproportionate harms from a distorted atmosphere.

“Climate change reparations” is the shorthand for this claim—reparations meaning, basically, “a rectification of past and ongoing harms.” A plainer word would be justice. But justice is elusive, difficult to calculate, and often impossible to enforce.

The notion of climate reparations, also referred to as “climate restitution,” has proved radioactive within international climate change talks, as richer nations resist acknowledging the responsibilities they may hold.

The mounting price tag of extreme weather events and the prospect of greater destruction to come have brought into focus a question that has been lurking at the edges of climate change conversations: Who should pay the costs of the death and destruction caused by human-driven global warming?

Like other attempts to remedy historical wrongs (the claim that African Americans should receive compensation for the plunder of slavery is probably the best known), a viable approach to climate reparations has been bedeviled by the immensity of the injustices involved. “Just as the problems of climate change overwhelm our cognitive and [emotional] systems . . . they also swamp the machinery of morality,” Dale Jamieson, a philosopher of environmental ethics, has written.

Part of the problem is time—the weird weather we are experiencing now is the result of emissions from decades ago. Even if we stopped all emissions today, climate change would persist for generations. Simply put, many of the perpetrators are dead, and the majority of those who will suffer most aren’t yet born. Then there’s the issue of space—the way in which a transatlantic flight from New York to London contributes, in some small measure, to record-breaking temperatures in Australia or a drought in the Amazon. So much distance lies between causes and effects that it’s hard to locate blame. Finally, there’s the complication of scope—we are all, each of us, complicit every time we fire up the car’s engine or jet off to a faraway place.

How can any individual, any set of people, or even any nation be held accountable for so vast a problem? Is it really fair, for example, to ask a poor family in New Orleans to compensate a rich family in Bangladesh for the harm done by rising sea levels?

The idea of climate reparations seems to lead to an ethical stalemate.

THESE ETHICAL DILEMMAS are beginning to disentangle as the impacts of climate change become immediate. Climate change is no longer a far-off threat to be suffered by future generations. It is happening here and now, the destruction in real time.

Meanwhile, new research is tightening the chain of causality between fossil fuel consumption and extreme weather disasters. After Superstorm Sandy walloped New York City in 2012, many people were careful not to attribute the storm’s strength to human actions. That uncertainty is evaporating under the glare of a hot new sky. Climatologists report that record-breaking heat and strong winds intensified the disastrous 2017 Northern California wildfires. A few weeks before, San Francisco had posted an unprecedented September high of 106°F. On the first night of the fires, the Diablo winds were clocked at a hurricane-force 79 miles per hour. The record rainfall during Hurricane Harvey (one Texas community measured 51 inches) was three times more likely to occur than it would have been during a storm a century earlier. In December, the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society issued a first-ever report linking extreme weather events to climate change.

This contraction of cause and effect is sharpening the lines of accountability, which now squarely point toward those actors who well understood the threat long before the rest of us. It’s a myth that we’re all equally liable for the disaster of climate change. There is one group that, through its actions as well as its inaction, has perpetuated one of the greatest crimes in the history of civilization: the knowing destruction of Earth’s essential life system.

The campaign for climate restitution focuses on what the academic literature sometimes refers to as the “carbon majors”—those corporate conglomerates that have amassed colossal fortunes through the discovery, extraction, refining, marketing, and sale of fossil fuel energy. These companies span the globe, their networks of wellheads and pipelines and refineries stretching across continents and beneath the seas. Measured by revenue and size of workforce, they are larger than many governments.

The term “carbon majors,” however, is too polite. It elides the feudal logic of these companies’ business models and the raw power of their political dominance. It doesn’t capture these corporations’ immense sense of privilege, the audacity of their assertion that the rest of us—families, communities, taxpayers—should cover all the costs of their recklessness. Better to give them a more accurate name: the Carbon Barons.


NO ONE EXCEPT for the oldest people in Adjuntas could remember such a storm.

Yesenia Ramos Cintrón and her family lived in a shelter while waiting for assistance from FEMA. | Photo by Joa Rodríguez

As Hurricane Maria tore through the mountains of Puerto Rico, Yesenia Ramos Cintrón was glad that she had moved her whole family to her mother-in-law’s house. Their home had made it through Hurricane Irma the week before without any serious damage—just a few small leaks in the roof. But everyone had said that this storm was going to be much worse, so Yesenia had packed up everything she could: Luis Yade’s PlayStation, all of Nilkaely’s favorite toys and clothes, the baby things for Dylan Yael, plus her laptop, the kids’ tablet, and the family’s important documents, including the diplomas for the nursing degrees she had just completed. When the storm began to hammer down, it seemed like leaving had been a good idea. The hurricane sounded like there was a volcano outside.

Once the storm cleared, Yesenia and her husband, Eduardo, went back to their house to see how it had fared. The home they had inherited from her father 13 years ago was destroyed. The hurricane had lifted the roof clear off and smashed everything inside.

Staying at her mother-in-law’s two-bedroom house wasn’t an option. It was crowded and uncomfortable, what with her sister-in-law already living there and Yesenia with three kids. She decided to take the family to the government shelter that had opened at the high school up the hill from the Burger King. It wouldn’t be so bad, she figured. They wouldn’t be there long.

The kids didn’t seem too bothered by living in the shelter. She had salvaged all of their favorite things, which made it feel a bit like home: Nilkaely’s stuffed animals and her yellow Pooh Bear sheets, now stretched over a cot, and many of Luis’s things. Dylan was only a baby, just five months old, and he didn’t know any better.

Hurricane Maria’s scouring of Puerto Rico left thousands of people homeless. | Photo by Steph Segarra

But for Yesenia, being in the shelter felt like a heavy weight. It was the worst: 21 people all living in a single classroom! No privacy, no place to cook. Just four showers for everyone, and only with cold water. She felt bad when Dylan got sick and cried and kept people awake. But what could she do? He was just a baby. There were all kinds of people there, some from different backgrounds than she and her children were used to. One old man stayed up all night drinking. The shelter finally kicked him out.

Yesenia had always thought of herself as a strong person who found courage under pressure, but many days she felt depressed. Sometimes, when the kids weren’t around, she would cry. But at least they were all alive. And some good things had come out of the storm. With all of the road closures, she had quit her job at the senior home in Manati. Then that state senator who had visited the shelter had tried to help find her a new job in Ponce, which would be much closer.

The only thing that made her mad was FEMA. She had filled out all of the paperwork for storm-damage compensation, and an inspector had even come by to look at the house. Then she was told that her application had been sent to the fraud investigation unit. On one form, someone had spelled her name with a J instead of a Y. The name didn’t match her social security number. “Who wrote J?” the FEMA people asked her. She didn’t know. “How long will the fraud investigation last?” she asked. Four months, they said.

Four months!

“I am living in a refugio, a refuge,” she told the people on the phone. But her English was no good, and they didn’t understand. “A chel-ter,” she said. “I am living in a chel-ter. With a ba-by.” She asked to speak with someone who understood Spanish. They said they didn’t have anyone who spoke Spanish.

Weeks turned into a month. One month turned into two months. Dylan turned seven months old in the shelter. Thanksgiving and Christmas were about to arrive, and things had gotten bad with Eduardo, who hated being stuck there. They were arguing all the time. Many nights he slept at his mother’s house.

The government said that she could move into one of Adjuntas’s public housing complexes on the edge of town. But she couldn’t take her family to that kind of place. She feared there would be drugs and prostitutes there.

Every day she wondered, “What am I going to do?” For so many years she had worked hard. She had done everything she could to raise up her family. And now this. It felt like, because of the hurricane, she had taken three steps backward in life.


ON JANUARY 10, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio held a press conference to announce that the largest city in the United States was moving to divest its holdings in fossil fuel corporations and was filing a lawsuit against five Carbon Barons—ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Royal Dutch Shell—seeking to recover damages from Hurricane Sandy as well as the costs for sea level rise adaptation.

“For decades, Big Oil ravaged the environment, and Big Oil copied Big Tobacco,” the mayor said. “They used a classic cynical playbook. They denied and denied and denied that their product was lethal. Meanwhile, they spent a lot of time hooking society on that lethal product. . . . It’s time for them to start paying for the damage they’ve done.”

A reckoning must be made. After all, we are not merely consumers seeking compensation for a product defect. We are citizens insisting that impunity is unacceptable in a republic governed by the rule of law.

The New York suit made the city the eighth local government in the country seeking to hold the Carbon Barons legally accountable for climate change damages. In 2017, seven California communities—the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Cruz, and Imperial Beach, along with Marin, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz Counties—filed similar complaints against those five oil giants as well as more than 20 other coal-and-oil-services corporations. Following the more polite standards of Canadian politics, five towns and cities in British Columbia have sent letters to 20 Carbon Barons asking them to begin paying some of the costs connected to global warming. “In my opinion, the companies that have profited greatly off of the destruction of our planet and the coming climate catastrophe should be at the table to pay,” a Victoria city councilor said.

These are not the first attempts to hold fossil fuel corporations responsible for losses and damages related to industrial greenhouse gas emissions. In 2005, residents of Mississippi sued an offshore-drilling company, Murphy Oil, under state law, claiming that by fueling climate change the corporation had exacerbated Hurricane Katrina. But the case was thrown into judicial limbo after a majority of the judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recused themselves, presumably because they had conflicts of interest with the oil and gas industry. In 2008, the residents of the Alaska Native village of Kivalina filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking compensation from ExxonMobil and other oil companies for the flooding in their coastal town. A district court judge dismissed the case, and the court of appeals upheld that decision, ruling that the Clean Air Act displaced federal common-law claims seeking damages for injuries resulting from greenhouse gas emissions.

The new climate restitution lawsuits enjoy advantages their predecessors didn’t. Although the lawsuits are ambitious in their goals, they are relatively modest in their tactics. The municipal and county lawsuits rest on middle-of-the-road tort law surrounding product liability and the “polluter pays” principle. The lawsuits claim that the Carbon Barons caused public and private nuisances when they failed to disclose the inherent dangers of fossil fuel combustion, dangers that they themselves have been aware of for decades. The opening line of the New York City complaint reads, “This lawsuit is based upon the fundamental principle that a corporation that makes a product causing severe harm when used exactly as intended should shoulder the costs of abating that harm.”

Mayor de Blasio’s comparison between his city’s lawsuit and the historic campaign to hold cigarette manufacturers liable for their decades of deception is an often-used analogy, and it’s spot-on. Like the 1990s-era suits filed by state attorneys general against Big Tobacco, the new cases against the Carbon Barons are taking advantage of recent scientific findings and fresh revelations regarding what the defendants knew and when they knew it.

Recent research has provided attorneys with the ability to draw a direct line from fossil fuel business operations to rising temperatures to consequences such as higher sea levels. In the Kivalina case, the district court judge observed that it would be difficult to determine any one company’s contribution to climate change harms. Since then, a 2013 peer-reviewed paper by Richard Heede, published in the journal Climatic Change, showed that it is possible to do this. Heede’s research concluded that the 20 largest investor-owned Carbon Barons have, over roughly the last 150 years, extracted a volume of fossil fuels large enough to produce nearly 30 percent of global emissions. The oil and gas extracted by the five companies named in the New York suit resulted in 181 gigatons of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere during the previous century and a half—or 12.5 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gases. Subsequent peer-reviewed research by Heede and collaborators has concluded that the collective business practices of some 90 fossil fuel corporations have driven nearly two-thirds of the observed increases in global surface temperatures. Although it can feel as if the invisible hand of the marketplace is driving global climate change, the Carbon Barons’ fingerprints are unmistakable.

Most damning are the recent revelations that, for nearly 40 years, the leaders of these companies have been aware that their products were emitting dangerous greenhouse gases. A series of exposes published in 2015 by the Los Angeles Times and Inside Climate News showed that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the oil companies’ own in-house scientists had confirmed that CO2 from oil products was contributing to the greenhouse effect. As early as 1977, scientists at Exxon warned the company that the “use of fossil fuels . . . should not be encouraged” because of the risk they posed. In a 1980 presentation to members of the American Petroleum Institute (API), a scientist warned that a global temperature rise of 2.5°C would likely have “major economic consequences” and that further rises would likely produce “globally catastrophic effects.” A year later, a director in Exxon’s research unit warned that the CO2 emissions modeled in the company’s 50-year planning documents “will later produce effects which will indeed be catastrophic (at least for a substantial fraction of the earth’s population).” There’s the smoking gun, in the form of an engineer’s memo.

Yet instead of sharing their findings with the government and the public (that is, their customers), the Carbon Barons began a well-orchestrated and well-documented campaign of deception. Either individually or through associations like the API, they gave money to think tanks, individual researchers, and advertising firms to socially engineer an atmosphere of uncertainty around climate science. Some of the recipients of this largesse, such as the George C. Marshall Institute, had honed their strategies of deceit years earlier while on the payroll of tobacco companies. A 1998 memo circulated among API members declared that “victory will be achieved when . . . average citizens ‘understand’ (recognize) the uncertainties in climate science.” That was six years after the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted, based on scientists’ certainty that human activities were changing the atmosphere. In 2000, ExxonMobil paid for a series of advertisements on the New York Times’s op-ed page with the headline “Unsettled Science.” One ad declared, “Scientists remain unable to confirm” the hypothesis that “humans are causing global warming.”

For the Carbon Barons, everything went according to plan. Between 2006 and 2016, the percentage of Americans who believed that humans were responsible for global warming went down, even as scientists’ certainty in their warnings increased. In the last 20 years, ExxonMobil has routinely broken U.S. records for corporate earnings. In 2014, the company posted its biggest annual profit ever: $32.5 billion.

NONE OF THIS IS ANCIENT HISTORY. The Carbon Barons’ offenses have occurred within our lifetimes—within, in fact, the space of a single generation. Longtime NASA climatologist James Hansen gave his famous congressional testimony warning about the dangers of climate change 30 years ago, in the summer of 1988. By 1988, the Carbon Barons understood that global warming could be, in their own words, “catastrophic.” Yet it was around that same time that they launched their disinformation campaign. The year 1988 provides another baseline: More than half of all industrial CO2 emissions have occurred since then.

Case closed? Not exactly. The Carbon Barons have no intention of conceding. Two days before the New York City lawsuit was made public, ExxonMobil filed a petition in Texas state court seeking to depose various lawyers and government officials from the California cities and counties that are suing the company. The petition claims that the local governments’ efforts amount to a conspiracy. The reigning Carbon Baron also argues—as it has in other legal defenses—that the lawsuits are an attempt to “suppress” the corporation’s constitutional right to free speech.

Perhaps. After all, the political realm is awfully accommodating when it comes to alternative theories of reality. But fraud is not considered protected speech. The Carbon Barons’ long-running deception is the First Amendment equivalent of yelling “There is no fire!” in a crowded theater filling with smoke. The Carbon Barons may also want to remember this: When speech moves into a courtroom, “alternative facts” are known by a specific term of art—they are called perjury.


THE RAIN was like nothing anyone had ever seen.

As Hurricane Harvey whipped toward Houston, the Saldivar brothers—Danny, Ric, and Sammy—made a plan. Their parents—Manuel and Belia, both in their 80s—were suffering from dementia, and the middle brother, Sammy, had been living with them since the previous January. Mom and Dad’s house had flooded during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, when the backyard bayou had busted its banks, and the brothers knew the house could flood again. If the waters got high, it would be better to be at Danny’s house. If the floods worsened, they would try to make it over to Ric’s.

Sammy watched the waters Saturday night as the rain poured down on southeast Texas, but eventually nodded off to sleep. When he woke sometime around 4 A.M., he could tell things were bad and he called Ric. “I fell asleep, and the water is already coming up,” he said. With the rain still hammering, Sammy got Mom and Dad out to his Chevy Sierra pickup, but it wouldn’t start. So he walked them down Lake Forest Boulevard until a stranger offered them a ride and dropped them off at Danny’s place.

Ric Saldivar, center, at the funeral for his parents. The pair drowned along with four great-grandchildren. | Photo by Jon Shapley/Houston Chronicle/AP

Danny wasn’t there. Turned out he was stuck across town at one of his sons’ houses. Sammy put Mom and Dad’s clothes into the dryer and called both of his brothers. Ric told him, “If you’re going to get out of there, you have to leave right now. And you have to get Danny’s grandkids.”

Danny and his wife, Virginia, had been raising their grandchildren. Their son was in prison, and their daughter-in-law, who lived across the street, was often working. So their house had become a second home to Devy, Dominic, Xavier, and Daisy.

Devy had turned 16 that July, and the family had thrown her a big Sweet Sixteen party with a beautiful white dress. When she and the other kids came over after school, Devy would do the usual teen things: talk and text with friends, watch TV. Dominic, 14, would play video games. Sometimes he would practice his trombone, having landed a spot in the high school marching band. Xavier, nine, would climb around in the backyard or play with his action figures. Superman was his favorite. Daisy was the baby—six years old and fond of hanging out with her grandpa, whether that meant taking endless selfies on his phone or going along on his handyman jobs. People liked calling her “Daisy Donut” after the ladies at church noticed her sweet tooth. She liked calling people “silly goose.”

Sammy went across the street, got all the kids, and ran with them back to Danny’s house. Then all seven of them piled into Danny’s white Ford cargo van, the one Danny used for his handyman work and for ferrying karaoke and DJ equipment to church functions. Sammy, Mom, and Dad got into the front seat. The four kids got in the back, behind the black metal cage, and sat on the floor. With water filling the street, they headed out.

Ric had told Sammy that the freeway entrances had been closed, so Sammy took the surface streets. Everywhere they went, the water was deep. Sammy was driving east on Ley Road when he came to the bridge that crosses Greens Bayou. He had driven by there a million times, and normally it was calm. Now the water was high and wide and pulsing.

A flooded gas station in Texas after Hurricane Harvey | Photo by Julie Dermansky

A flooded gas station in Ingham Queensland after recent flooding

Sammy didn’t want to cross, but Dad insisted, “It’s not that deep.” Manuel Saldivar was a loving father, but he was also tough, and as his dementia had deepened, he had gotten even tougher. As the Saldivar brothers used to say, “When Dad tells you to do something, you do it.” So Sammy hit the gas.

They made it across the bridge OK, water sloshing around the tires. But as they reached the far end of the bridge, the road dipped and the van hit deep water. Sammy had driven about 20 feet past the bridge when the van just stopped.

He told everyone to sit still and relax. If they got out, he said, the water was too high and the current too strong, and they would be washed away.

They waited. A long 10 minutes went by. Water began to seep through the doors and fill up the van. Mom and Dad’s feet were getting wet. Dad started laughing.

Then the van began to inch back toward the fast waters of the main current. The vehicle slid sideways. It hit mud and stopped at the side of the bridge. Water began gushing across the hood, and the van’s nose dipped down into the bayou. When water poured through the half-open driver’s-side window, some primal survival instinct kicked in, and Sammy slipped out of his seat belt and through the opening.

The current pushed his head underwater and drove him backward. He swam until he grabbed onto a tree branch. The van was upstream from him, and there was no way to reach it.

Sammy yelled for the kids to get out of the van.

The kids screamed that they couldn’t.

Then the screaming stopped and the van went silent. Sammy watched it go under.

He hung on in the water for nearly an hour, yelling for help. Finally someone from the trailer park on the other side of Greens Bayou heard his hollering and called the sheriff’s department. An emergency rescue crew arrived and pulled him from the water.

The funerals took place at Brookside Memorial. Belia and Manuel’s service was on the second Saturday in September, the one for Devy, Dominic, Xavier, and Daisy three days later. The caskets were closed. At the service for the children, there were three regular-size coffins and a small one for Daisy.

The Saldivar brothers are haunted by what happened. Christmas was hard. So was December 14, the day Daisy would have turned seven. When Danny is home alone in the afternoon, repairing his flood-damaged house, and he hears a sound near the front door, he turns around thinking it’s Daisy coming home from school. She used to fill up his days.


WHEN ASKED who, if anyone, should be held responsible for the suffering they have experienced, neither Brad nor Brandy Sherwood, nor Yesenia Ramos Cintrón, nor any of the Saldivar brothers offered the fossil fuel corporations as an answer. These were natural disasters, they said. They were acts of God, some of them believe.

Yet someone should be held accountable for these families’ loss and suffering. These extreme weather disasters are, at this point, as much unnatural as they are natural. Human forces are at work, the same forces that are now busy trying to avoid any responsibility for what they’ve wrought.

The Carbon Barons seek to perpetuate the myth that because we are each, in some tiny way, responsible for fueling climate change, no one should be held liable for any damage and destruction. In response to the raft of lawsuits, the CEO of BP, Bob Dudley, swatted away the Big Tobacco analogies. “People don’t need to smoke cigarettes, but they have needed energy for many decades,” he said. “If you’re asking me, can the legal system do something like that, I don’t know. But do I think it’s right? Absolutely not.” The day after the New York City lawsuit was filed, the New York Post’s editorial page harrumphed, “Why should the oil companies pay? They’re not actually burning the fuel—that’s the world’s utilities, motorists, etc.”

The blithe dismissals from the Carbon Barons and their apologists are little more than sarcasm used to disguise fear. At some level, they know a reckoning is coming. And so they seek to dilute responsibility with every gallon of fuel they sell. Their claim of blamelessness is the hollow innocence of the drug dealer: The customers just wanted it.

This is not to say that the Carbon Barons alone should bear the costs of climate-change-related disasters and adaptation. There is no question that each of us, as individuals, carries some blame. A fair reading of history would conclude that the public at large has known about the dangers of our daily energy consumption at least since 1994, when the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change went into effect. Commonsense morality demands that we do what we can to reduce our individual emissions: take the train instead of the plane, go by bike rather than by car, forgo the steak in favor of the vegetarian option, have fewer children. If that sounds like sacrifice, it is. Such sacrifices could also be viewed as virtues—the old-fashioned values of temperance, frugality, and patience.

We cannot, however, reasonably expect moral behavior from the Carbon Barons, whose controlling ethic is meeting shareholder expectations. But at the very least we must demand that they be held accountable. For they, unlike us, are uniquely culpable.

The Carbon Barons are guilty not only of fraud but also of reckless negligence, of failing to use their early knowledge about climate change risks to shift the direction of human affairs. You can decide not to indulge in luxury emissions like a trip to Europe, but such abstinence will do almost nothing to reduce global warming. The Carbon Barons are in a different position. When they learned that their products could be catastrophic, they had the ability to intervene in the course of history. They possessed the scientific awareness, the economic might, and the political influence to have avoided climate chaos.

And they chose not to.

THE LAW IS AN IMPERFECT extension of ethics. Tort law alone isn’t going to save the planet. Even if, after years of litigation, the pending cases succeed, the question of climate restitution may well be too large for the courtroom, the damages too vast for any single judge or jury to decide. This century will witness trillions of dollars of infrastructure and wealth destroyed in the course of unnatural disasters. Millions of human lives may be lost in heat waves, droughts, fires, and floods. Beyond the losses for human civilization, there are the damages to wild nature—the altered forests and the acidic seas. Is any settlement large enough to remedy the extinction of a species? One stumbles in trying to make such a reckoning.

Yet a reckoning must be made. While the courts are, for now, the best and most likely venue for achieving some amends, climate justice is ultimately a political problem. After all, we are not merely consumers seeking compensation for a product defect. We are citizens insisting that impunity is unacceptable in a republic governed by the rule of law. The demand for climate change reparations—that is to say, some redress for climate change’s recent past, present, and likely future damages—is the base minimum required for any accounting of a crime as insidious as the profit-driven alteration of Earth’s atmosphere.

The urgency of this attempt cannot be overstated. This effort to apportion responsibility is in a race against time and the implacable physics of Earth’s vast systems. The longer the Carbon Barons are able to delay justice, the sooner a worse judgment will come for all of us, the innocent as well as the guilty.

This article appeared in the May/June 2018 edition with the headline “The Case for Climate Reparations.”

Press link for more: Sierra Club

Tourism Industry & Climate Activists demand an end to coal. #StopAdani #auspol #qldpol #SaveTheReef

Great news today, Cairns a city that relies on tourism is on the front lines of climate change.

The Great Barrier Reef has suffered from record back to back coral bleaching the Tourism Industry and conservation groups have often been fighting over the extent of the threat and the damage already done.

Today the tourism industry and conservation groups came together demanding the Australian government acted to protect the reef, to stop funding new coal mines.

They demanded climate action to keep global warming below 1.5C degrees.

#ClimateChange is the single biggest threat to life & prosperity.

by Patricia Espinosa, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary

Our planet is warming .

An astonishing 17 of the 18 warmest years on record have occurred in the twenty-first century .

The past three years were the hottest since records began .

With this warming comes climate change, causing extreme storms, droughts and floods .

We witnessed these climate disasters many times in 2017 and were shocked .

Yet, these are only the most dramatic and visible impacts .

Other upheavals range from reduced crop productivity to forced migration .

Climate change is the single biggest threat to life, security and prosperity on Earth .

Governments at all levels, civil society, the private sector and individuals are acting to limit global temperatures to agreed levels and to help vulnerable communities adapt to the effects of climate change we cannot avoid .

UNClimate Change’s mandated is to lead and support the global community in this international response, with the Paris Agreement and the Convention being the long-term vehicles for united global climate action .

For UN Climate Change, much of 2017 was about the hard work of ironing out the details of the new climate regime .

This is a laborious process .

Without it, however, the Paris Agreement will have no impact .

COP 23, presided over by Fiji, demonstrated that there is an unstoppable climate movement supported by all sectors of society across the globe .

Almost 30,000 people took part: Heads of State, ministers, delegates from Parties, private sector and civil society leaders, representatives of international organizations, youth groups and indigenous peoples, and many more .

During the conference, financial commitments amounting to almost USD 1 billion to tackle climate change were made.

Building on the negotiations over the years, we saw key decisions made by governments, many of which broke new ground .

The Talanoa Dialogue, which will inform and inspire parties as they review their commitments and revise them upwards .

The first- ever Gender Action Plan, which will increase the participation of women in climate change responses .

The first-ever agreement on agriculture and climate, which will address both vulnerabilities and emissions in this key sector .

The first-ever platform for indigenous peoples and local communities, who can now share their valuable perspectives on climate change .

These decisions to bring in new voices, partners and action areas are vital if we are to succeed in meet the challenges of climate change .

This is why UN Climate Change in 2017 focused increasingly on cooperation and coherent action on climate, sustainable development and disaster risk reduction, both within the United Nations system and with external partners .

We also saw advances in climate finance . The Adaptation Fund broke its single-year resource mobilization record, raising USD 95 .5 million .

UN Climate Change continued to deliver on its core tasks: supporting negotiations, including laying the groundwork for the Paris Agreement work programme, monitoring and analysing commitments to build transparency and trust, increase the capacity of developing countries to adapt to climate change and providing science to help Parties shape their actions on climate change .

There is much to do in 2018 .

We need to support Parties to increase pre-2020 action .

Those Parties that have not yet done so should ratify the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol .

Parties should use the Talanoa Dialogue as an opportunity to engage with one another and increase ambition under the Paris Agreement .

In 2018, it is critical that the outcomes of the Paris Agreement work programme are adopted at COP 24 in Katowice to ensure we are ready for the implementation of the Agreement .

At the same time, we must further align planning and action on climate change with the United Nations.

Press link for full report: UNFCCC

#ClimateChange Causing Huge Infrastructure Damage. #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani

Climate Change Causes Huge Infrastructure Damage

The impacts of Climate Change are now slowly being understood by profession­al engineers and other disciplines as more and more data on what has happened in weather events around the world is becoming available and specific studies are undertaken after significant events to provide additional information.

There is also now a growing network of or­ganisations that are ensuring that the infor­mation is quickly disseminated to relevant people and groups around the world and that the information is used to develop plans to as­sist in the mitigation process.

In Fiji, we have seen a dramatic increase in both the frequency and intensity of weather events over the last three years, the most nota­ble being Tropical Cyclone Winston, and Gov­ernment is focussed on taking action to pre­pare for the future event and to have in place a strong response plan offering immediate ac­tion and an effective rebuilding capacity.

Together with these actions, there is a change in the way infrastructure is controlled and standards are being put in place to ensure that all infrastructure is designed to avoid the damage that has previously caused extreme hardship for the population and large finan­cial loss particularly in the rural agricultural areas.

One of the more interesting aspects of the increased studies of the results of an event is the concept that, while it is not possible to predict the event, it is possible to predict the effect caused by the event.

This concept is now well developed, especial­ly in New Zealand, where there has been a se­ries of intense earthquakes in the Canterbury region over a relatively short period of time.

By committing a significant amount of time and funding to reviewing where and why the damage occurred, engineers are finding that they can use the data in a predictive way to tell them in advance where the damage will occur in an event and provide them with op­portunities to mitigate the impact on the com­munity.

This can be done by either strengthening the weaknesses that were identified as the cause of the damage by the studies in infrastructure that has similar features, or by being fully prepared in the response to damage after the event.

Plans are being put in place to direct re­sponse teams to the most strategically im­portant damage and repair it as a priority, or even to have a stock pile of material close to the site.

With roads, planning is also put in place to decide on the best alternatives around blocks, where landslides are most likely to occur and what preventative measures are indicated so that early action can be taken.

Plans also identify all the earthmoving equipment in each area and the contact de­tails so that in an emergency all possible re­sources can be marshalled immediately.

This preparation can also extend to the nego­tiation of rates so that no time is wasted try­ing to strike deals with every supplier after the event.

Worldwide there is also a renewed attention to the existing construction and engineering standards to ensure that they are relevant to the new learning, but also there is a fairly widely held belief that some of the existing standards may be higher than required.

This is a concern because a higher standard requires a higher budget and this can stop some work from proceeding or, more impor­tantly, lead to some cost cutting activities on the project that could compromise the integ­rity of the infrastructure.

It is estimated that moving to a Category five standard rather than a category four could add an additional thirty percent to the com­pletion cost. In the case of land slip, there have been many advances in technology over the last few years and these are not included in existing standards.

These technologies often provide an more ef­fective and economical result.

Another consideration, particularly in Fiji, is to find ways to encourage owner builders, particularly those in rural areas and villages, to apply acceptable minimum standards to the small dwelling structures.

To achieve compliance the standards need to be made simple and achievable by even un­skilled people and the cost has to be kept to a minimum.

The success of the concept will also require a very heavy awareness campaign as most of­ten there will be no professional review and as most of the structures of concern will be constructed without plan approval or profes­sional oversight.

One suggested solution for this segment is to develop packaged houses that are deliv­ered complete with all components including strapping and reinforcing to ensure the struc­ture is tied down as required.

An alternative concept under considera­tion is to supply framing and roofing compo­nents only, with the other components being sourced separately, to reduce the cost.

In New Zealand, after the Canterbury events, research identified all areas that were at risk and the government encouraged owners to move out and the houses were demolished.

The insurance in New Zealand made such action possible, with some government incen­tives added, but in Fiji most of the homes do not have insurance.

The recommendations from New Zealand show that the only long term solution is relo­cation, particularly for flooding or sea water incursion and that the cost of doing so will be significantly lower than staying with the sta­tus quo.

All the information to date tells us that Cli­mate Change will not go away and that the events will only get worse and more frequent, so a response to all the issues needs to be made now, or the effects on infrastructure and people will be much worse.

At least the government and relevant indus­tries are moving fast.


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Worsening Worldwide Land Degradation Now ‘Critical’, Undermining Well-Being of 3.2 Billion People #StopAdani #auspol

Main cause of species loss & driver of the migration of millions of people by 2050 In landmark 3-year assessment report, 100+ experts outline costs, dangers & options

Worsening land degradation caused by human activities is undermining the well-being of two fifths of humanity, driving species extinctions and intensifying climate change.

It is also a major contributor to mass human migration and increased conflict, according to the world’s first comprehensive evidence-based assessment of land degradation and restoration.

The dangers of land degradation, which cost the equivalent of about 10% of the world’s annual gross product in 2010 through the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, are detailed for policymakers, together with a catalogue of corrective options, in the three-year assessment report by more than 100 leading experts from 45 countries, launched today.

Produced by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the report was approved at the 6th session of the IPBES Plenary in Medellín, Colombia. IPBES has 129 State Members.

Providing the best-available evidence for policymakers to make better-informed decisions, the report draws on more than 3,000 scientific, Government, indigenous and local knowledge sources. Extensively peer-reviewed, it was improved by more than 7,300 comments, received from over 200 external reviewers.

Serious Danger to Human Well-being

Rapid expansion and unsustainable management of croplands and grazing lands is the most extensive global direct driver of land degradation, causing significant loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services – food security, water purification, the provision of energy and other contributions of nature essential to people. This has reached ‘critical’ levels in many parts of the world, the report says.

“With negative impacts on the well-being of at least 3.2 billion people, the degradation of the Earth’s land surface through human activities is pushing the planet towards a sixth mass species extinction,” said Prof. Robert Scholes (South Africa), co-chair of the assessment with Dr. Luca Montanarella (Italy). “Avoiding, reducing and reversing this problem, and restoring degraded land, is an urgent priority to protect the biodiversity and ecosystem services vital to all life on Earth and to ensure human well-being.”

“Wetlands have been particularly hard hit,” said Dr. Montanarella. “We have seen losses of 87% in wetland areas since the start of the modern era – with 54% lost since 1900.”

According to the authors, land degradation manifests in many ways: land abandonment, declining populations of wild species, loss of soil and soil health, rangelands and fresh water, as well as deforestation.

Underlying drivers of land degradation, says the report, are the high-consumption lifestyles in the most developed economies, combined with rising consumption in developing and emerging economies.

High and rising per capita consumption, amplified by continued population growth in many parts of the world, can drive unsustainable levels of agricultural expansion, natural resource and mineral extraction, and urbanization – typically leading to greater levels of land degradation.

By 2014, more than 1.5 billion hectares of natural ecosystems had been converted to croplands.

Less than 25% of the Earth’s land surface has escaped substantial impacts of human activity – and by 2050, the IPBES experts estimate this will have fallen to less than 10%.

Crop and grazing lands now cover more than one third of the Earth´s land surface, with recent clearance of native habitats, including forests, grasslands and wetlands, being concentrated in some of the most species-rich ecosystems on the planet.

The report says increasing demand for food and biofuels will likely lead to continued increase in nutrient and chemical inputs and a shift towards industrialized livestock production systems, with pesticide and fertilizer use expected to double by 2050.

Avoidance of further agricultural expansion into native habitats can be achieved through yield increases on the existing farmlands, shifts towards less land degrading diets, such as those with more plant-based foods and less animal protein from unsustainable sources, and reductions in food loss and waste.

Strong Links to Climate Change

“Through this report, the global community of experts has delivered a frank and urgent warning, with clear options to address dire environmental damage,” said Sir Robert Watson, Chair of IPBES.

“Land degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change are three different faces of the same central challenge: the increasingly dangerous impact of our choices on the health of our natural environment.

We cannot afford to tackle any one of these three threats in isolation – they each deserve the highest policy priority and must be addressed together.”

The IPBES report finds that land degradation is a major contributor to climate change, with deforestation alone contributing about 10% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. Another major driver of the changing climate has been the release of carbon previously stored in the soil, with land degradation between 2000 and 2009 responsible for annual global emissions of up to 4.4 billion tonnes of CO2.

Given the importance of soil’s carbon absorption and storage functions, the avoidance, reduction and reversal of land degradation could provide more than a third of the most cost-effective greenhouse gas mitigation activities needed by 2030 to keep global warming under the 2°C threshold targeted in the Paris Agreement on climate change, increase food and water security, and contribute to the avoidance of conflict and migration.

Projections to 2050

“In just over three decades from now, an estimated 4 billion people will live in drylands,” said Prof. Scholes. “By then it is likely that land degradation, together with the closely related problems of climate change, will have forced 50-700 million people to migrate. Decreasing land productivity also makes societies more vulnerable to social instability – particularly in dryland areas, where years with extremely low rainfall have been associated with an increase of up to 45% in violent conflict.”

Dr. Montanarella added: “By 2050, the combination of land degradation and climate change is predicted to reduce global crop yields by an average of 10%, and by up to 50% in some regions. In the future, most degradation will occur in Central and South America, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia – the areas with the most land still remaining that is suitable for agriculture.”

The report also underlines the challenges that land degradation poses, and the importance of restoration, for key international development objectives, including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. “The greatest value of the assessment is the evidence that it provides to decision makers in Government, business, academia and even at the level of local communities,” said Dr. Anne Larigauderie, Executive Secretary of IPBES. “With better information, backed by the consensus of the world’s leading experts, we can all make better choices for more effective action.”

Options for Land Restoration

The report notes that successful examples of land restoration are found in every ecosystem, and that many well-tested practices and techniques, both traditional and modern, can avoid or reverse degradation.

In croplands, for instance, some of these include reducing soil loss and improving soil health, the use of salt tolerant crops, conservation agriculture and integrated crop, livestock and forestry systems.

In rangelands with traditional grazing, maintenance of appropriate fire regimes, and the reinstatement or development of local livestock management practices and institutions have proven effective.

Successful responses in wetlands have included control over pollution sources, managing the wetlands as part of the landscape, and reflooding wetlands damaged by draining.

In urban areas, urban spatial planning, replanting with native species, the development of ‘green infrastructure’ such as parks and riverways, remediation of contaminated and sealed soils (e.g. under asphalt), wastewater treatment and river channel restoration are identified as key options for action.

Opportunities to accelerate action identified in the report include:

• Improving monitoring, verification systems and baseline data;

• Coordinating policy between different ministries to simultaneously encourage more sustainable production and consumption practices of land-based commodities;

• Eliminating ‘perverse incentives’ that promote land degradation and promoting positive incentives that reward sustainable land management; and

• Integrating the agricultural, forestry, energy, water, infrastructure and service agendas.

Making the point that existing multilateral environmental agreements provide a good platform for action to avoid, reduce and reverse land degradation and promote restoration, the authors observe, however, that greater commitment and more effective cooperation is needed at the national and local levels to achieve the goals of zero net land degradation, no loss of biodiversity and improved human well-being.

Knowledge Gaps

Among the areas identified by the report as opportunities for further research are:

• The consequences of land degradation on freshwater and coastal ecosystems, physical and mental health and spiritual well-being, and infectious disease prevalence and transmission;

• The potential for land degradation to exacerbate climate change, and land restoration to help both mitigation and adaptation;

• The linkages between land degradation and restoration and social, economic and political processes in far-off places; and

• Interactions among land degradation, poverty, climate change, and the risk of conflict and of involuntary migration.

Environmental and Economic Sense

The report found that higher employment and other benefits of land restoration often exceed by far the costs involved.  On average, the benefits of restoration are 10 times higher than the costs (estimated across nine different biomes), and, for regions like Asia and Africa, the cost of inaction in the face of land degradation is at least three times higher than the cost of action.

“Fully deploying the toolbox of proven ways to stop and reverse land degradation is not only vital to ensure food security, reduce climate change and protect biodiversity,” said Dr. Montanarella, “It’s also economically prudent and increasingly urgent.”

Echoing this message, Sir Robert Watson, said: “Of the many valuable messages in the report, this ranks among the most important: implementing the right actions to combat land degradation can transform the lives of millions of people across the planet, but this will become more difficult and more costly the longer we take to act.”

U.S. Judge Dismisses ExxonMobil LawSuit. #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani #ClimateChange

U.S. judge dismisses Exxon lawsuit to stop climate change probes

Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A federal judge on Thursday dismissed Exxon Mobil Corp’s (XOM.N) lawsuit seeking to stop New York and Massachusetts from probing whether the oil and gas company covered up its knowledge about climate change and lied to investors and the public about it.

U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan rejected as “implausible” Exxon’s argument that the states’ Democratic attorneys general, Eric Schneiderman and Maura Healey, were pursuing politically motivated, bad faith fraud investigations in order to violate its constitutional rights.

Caproni dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning the Irving, Texas-based company cannot bring it again.

Exxon is evaluating its legal options, spokesman Scott Silvestri said in an email.

“We believe the risk of climate change is real and we want to be part of the solution,” he added. “We’ve invested about $8 billion on energy efficiency and low-emission technologies such as carbon capture and next generation biofuels.”

The case is one of several, including shareholder and employee lawsuits, centered on whether Exxon has for decades lied about climate change, including its impact on energy prices and the environment and its ability to develop reserves, and taken public positions inconsistent with what it knew.

Schneiderman, in a statement, welcomed the end of what he called Exxon’s “frivolous, nonsensical lawsuit that wrongfully attempted to thwart a serious state law enforcement investigation.”

Healey called Caproni’s decision “a turning point in our investigation and a victory for the people.”

Exxon sued in June 2016, after receiving subpoenas seeking documents about its historical understanding of climate change, and communications with interest groups and shareholders.

The company accused Schneiderman and Healey of conspiring to “silence and intimidate one side of the public policy debate,” violating its rights to free speech and due process and against unreasonable searches.

Much of Exxon’s case was based on a March 2016 news conference with the attorneys general and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, which it called a bid to coerce its adoption of policies that they and climate change activists preferred.

Caproni, however, said “nothing that was said can fairly be read to constitute declaration of a political vendetta against Exxon.”

She said the belief by Schneiderman and Healey, “apparently” shared by Exxon, that climate change is real does not mean they had no reason to believe Exxon may have fraudulently “sowed confusion” to bolster its bottom line.

Nowhere, she said, did Exxon suggest that the attorneys general believed the company “was itself confused about the causes or risks of climate change.”

The case is Exxon Mobil Corp et al v Schneiderman et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 17-02301.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Grant McCool and Leslie Adler

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